Bad News For Salsa Lovers

Mild, medium or hot - Americans have been spooning it, slopping it over and scooping it up, CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher reports.

Salsa has caught up to ketchup and surpassed it as the most popular way to spice up supper - but what makes it the right stuff is now at the mercy of Mother Nature. New Mexico's red-hot $60 million a year chili pepper industry is in jeopardy.

"I've never seen it this bad - it's the worst I've seen during my lifetime," said chili farmer Emma Jean Cervantes.

For nearly a hundred years, the Cervantes family has farmed the fields of New Mexico's Mesilla Valley.

But like much of the country, unusual weather has taken it's toll here, killing most of the plants and forcing the region's farmers to plow under their most profitable product.

"When you have cold spring temperatures after germination the seedlings don't grow very fast and when the wind comes around, you got very small seedlings out there - they just got whipped around," said Natalie Goldberg, a plant pathologist.

And that, combined with a warmer winter that didn't kill off enough insects, will likely wipe out more than half the state's chile crop.

The problem isn't the shortage - imported peppers will fill the gap. But for discriminating chili lovers, what's making it to the table may not make the grade.

"Our chili is blended with others chilis to make them better, and that's where we have the corner on the market," Bill Gomez, an agricultural economist.

The desert climate usually works wonders for the chili pepper, but not this year. So if you're wondering why your salsa has lost some of its spunk, it's because Mother Nature has decided to change the recipe.

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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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