Hot and bothered: Austin’s hot summer impacts pepper harvesting

Austin's had a super hot summer, even for Texas. We've had the hottest July since 2011, with a mean temperature of 90.6 degrees. Our weather folks looked and found our temperatures were 4.8 degrees warmer than an average July in Austin, almost a full degree warmer than the previous hottest July 11 years ago. Plus, it's been bone-dry, a situation only recently rectified by Shoal Creek bursting containment in a series of storms that resulted in not just local but statewide floods. Are these our new summers going forward? How could this affect the crops that ultimately fuel our lives? And ultimately, how could climate change potentially affect our beloved hot sauces, down to the cultivation of peppers, and their potential spiciness?

In June, the Huy Fong company, makers of Sriracha, forecasted a shortage due to weather conditions, particularly a massive drought in Mexico, causing a chile pepper shortage. While I find this kind of transparency from a company refreshing, it paints a bland, sad picture: less Sriracha in our lives. And while drought may be a local condition, it isn't isolated to Mexico, nor New Mexico. Drought is here in Central Texas, along with that stunning sun.

Ron Tilton from Hill Country Hot Peppers in Wimberley had a lot to say about how the summer of 2022 is pummeling his pepper crop. The day we spoke, the sky was studded with fat gray clouds, threatening rain and hiding the sun. He called it a "farmer's favorite weather." We haven't had enough of that this year.

Tilton explained the pepper growing process, and why this summer has been abrasive: "We germinate pepper seeds in January, and put them in the ground in April to May, when all chances of frost have passed – peppers are deliciously sensitive, like tomatoes." That's nearly six months of growing time before Tilton sees a return. And typically, he would have picked some peppers already. But now it's almost September, and Tilton still hasn't picked any peppers because it's too hot.

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