In New Mexico, fewer acres dedicated to iconic green chiles

(AP Photo/The Daily Times, Lindsay Pierce)
<p>Toby Sandoval, of Las Vegas, N.M., waits for customers as he roasts green chiles on the corner of 20th Street and Hutton Avenue in Farmington, N.M., Sept. 5, 2008. </p>

The sweet aroma of roasted peppers is wafting throughout New Mexico, signaling that fall is near and the green chile harvest is in full swing.

The annual ritual has everyone from Gov. Susana Martinez to farmers, chefs and hot pepper aficionados professing their love for all things green chile. They're quick to argue that the quality of New Mexico's signature crop is unmatched.

The seasonal attention highlights a growing demand for the New Mexico-grown hot peppers, even as the number of acres planted and harvested each year has been shrinking.

Labor costs, international competition and concerns over long-term water supplies — in a region that's no stranger to drought — have worked against chile producers.

But state agricultural officials are working with the industry in an effort to reverse the trend through researcher, marketing and certification programs.