Wild rice harvesting season open; rice nearing maturity
Minnesota’s wild rice harvesting season is open annually from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30 but despite the season dates, harvesters must first ensure the rice is ripe before launching their canoes, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Minnesota’s green rice law does not allow the harvesting of unripe rice.
More than 700 lakes and rivers in 31 counties contain significant stands of wild rice, with concentrations of rice being the highest in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca and St. Louis counties.
“The rice isn’t ripening as early as we’ve observed in some other years, but there should be good picking in early to mid-September as long as the weather stays mild,” said David Kanz, acting Brainerd area wildlife manager. “Wild rice is highly dependent on stable water levels through the year. Then, as rice ripens, we need mild weather so rice doesn’t fall from the stalk before harvest time.”
Wild rice is the edible seed of an aquatic grass and is the only cereal grain native to North America. When properly processed and stored, the nutritious grain can be stored for extended periods. One cup of cooked wild rice provides 7 grams of protein; is rich in potassium, zinc and riboflavin; and has nearly twice the fiber of brown rice.
In addition to being a traditional food source for Minnesota’s early people and an important part of Native American culture, wild rice is an important food staple for migrating waterfowl each fall and the growing plants provide important habitat for fish.
Because of the grain’s importance, harvesting wild rice is regulated in Minnesota. Some guidelines to consider before deciding to harvest wild rice include:
• Harvest takes place from a nonmotorized canoe, 18 feet or less, using only a push pole or paddles for power.
• Rice is collected by using two sticks, or flails, to knock mature seeds into the canoe. Flails can be no longer than 30 inches, and must weigh less than one pound each.
• Harvesting licenses cost $25 per season, or $15 per day, per person for Minnesota residents.
• There is no limit to number of pounds people may harvest with a permit.
• Processing is necessary to finish the rice into its final food product.
• The gathering process is labor-intensive.
Like other forms of gathering, allowing ample scouting time will lead to greater success. Some wild rice waters were hurt by large amounts of rainfall in the spring and early summer, but lakes that didn’t experience such rain have much better rice stands.
Accessing some lakes can be difficult, and low water in some parts of the state will make launching canoes more challenging. Some lakes and rivers within tribal boundaries are not open to public harvest. Finding a mentor who is willing to share the skills and knowledge can greatly improve success.
More information about wild rice management, a list of wild rice buyers and processors, and a partial list of lakes containing wild rice stands is available on the DNR website at www.dnr.state.mn.us/wildlife/shallowlakes/wildrice.html. The 1854 Treaty Authority website also provides updates on some lakes within the 1854 ceded territory in northeastern Minnesota.
Harvesting licenses can be purchased online via desktop browser and smartphone at www.mndnr.gov/buyalicense (see wildlife hunting licenses) or any DNR license agent.