Although consumption of both hot and bell peppers continues to grow in the United States, only a fraction of them are grown domestically.

To help U.S. growers take advantage of this trend, a team of Texas AgriLife researchers is developing hybrids they hope will help boost production efficiency and improve quality.

More than 70 percent of all fresh peppers consumed in the United States are grown in Mexico, with another 18 percent coming from Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Ironically, our domestic fresh pepper production has been declining steadily in a region renowned for its love of peppers—the American Southwest,” says Daniel Leskovar, a vegetable physiologist with Texas AgriLife Research in Uvalde.

He attributes the decline to global competition, labor issues, inconsistent market prices and inefficient agricultural practices.

“These factors, along with drought, plant disease and other challenges that are prevalent in the Southwest, have made it difficult for producers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona to grow peppers profitably,” Leskovar says.

To help Southwestern pepper producers, Leskovar and other Texas A&M System scientists and agriculture experts have teamed up to develop several new fresh pepper hybrids.

“We developed several new cultivars that were more well adapted to climatic conditions and plant diseases of the Southwest, as well as to consumer preferences,” Leskovar says.

The team has already bred several new cultivars of jalapeño, serrano, Habañero, poblano, ancho, bell and other fresh pepper plants, according to a university news release.

“At the same time, we’ve been developing these cultivars to produce higher yields of peppers with the size, shape, color, capsaicin (the active “heat” ingredient) level and nutritional content American consumers want,” says Kevin Crosby, a plant breeding expert with AgriLife Research in College Station and key team member. “These peppers not only look good, they taste great and the plants produce impressive amounts of fruit, all of which should please both the producer and the consumer.”

The team has established the first-known poblano pepper production in Texas through a partnership with San Antonio-based Constanzo Farms and is collaborating with other large producers in New Mexico and Arizona. They also have licensed two hot pepper cultivars in the past three years and have provided stock seed for commercial production, as well as providing large quantities of trial seed to pepper growers in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

Along with cultivar development, the team also is investigating additional strategies for overcoming other challenges to Southwestern pepper production. Some of these include working with regional producers on more efficient irrigation and cropping techniques, and developing a cropping system more suitable to machine harvesting.

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