Desert peppers cool in the heat

Even though it’s been hotter than blue blazes in the desert, the chile pepper crop is on track, according to Jeff Silvertooth, University of Arizona agronomist and soil scientist.

“The crop just started blooming about June 21st which is average. So, it’s just now in early bloom. Everything looks good right now, but that’s often the case at this point in the season. It’s too early to tell what kind of year we’ll have.”

With near-record heat across much of the desert in the past week, irrigation is the biggest concern. “We’re keeping up with water and fertilizer applications, which are the primary needs at this stage of the season,” Silvertooth says.

As a minor crop, pepper growers have not always had access to some of the more sophisticated production tools available to growers of other vegetable crops. Crop water coefficients, which are well-established and routinely used to make irrigation decisions in other row crops, simply haven’t been available for chile peppers. That’s changing however, thanks to work by Silvertooth in cooperation with key chile pepper growers and other researchers from New Mexico State University and Texas A&M University.

By measuring heat units accumulated after planting, researchers are establishing baseline figures for accumulated heat units at different stages of chile growth. Those data are then correlated with water and nutrient requirements. Researchers are utilizing the information to develop a model growers can use to make more informed management decisions.

The integrated crop management (ICM) project includes much more than irrigation and nutrition, although those are critical factors. Unlike cotton, chile pepper growers must also consider implications that irrigation and fertility can have on nuances such as flavor.

“In the intense heat of the desert, it’s very important to keep up with irrigations,” Silvertooth says. “Thus, one big thrust of our efforts is to develop and evaluate good crop water coefficients.”

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