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Wildlife Biologist Predicting Wild Rice Crop To Be Below Average This Year

Heavy Rains, Flooding Contributing To Diminished Harvest

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Wild rice harvest
Jim Mone/AP Photo

The wild rice crop in northern Wisconsin is likely to be below average this year, and summer storms are partially to blame.

Heavy rains and flooding in northern Wisconsin are contributing to a diminished harvest in some places, said Peter David, wildlife biologist with the Great Lakes Indian and Wildlife Commission.

“In a really good year, Wisconsin probably supports somewhere between five (thousand) and 6,000 acres of rice,” David said. “This year, it’ll take a while to get a better estimate, but I’m sure it’s markedly below that level.”

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David estimates the crop covers about half that this year – maybe less. He said beds downstream are bearing the brunt of the damage.

“Lakes that have a lot of watershed above them tended to have more negative impacts in those flooding events than those lakes that are high in the watersheds,” he said.

David noted some plants in Minnesota appear to be affected by stem rot disease due to flooding, although those reports have not been verified. He’s also receiving a few more reports of ergot this year. Ergot is a fungal disease impacting rice by making the grains appear three or four times their normal size. However, David said wild rice is faring better than it did during the June 2012 flood. Wild rice is already past peak in some places, but some beds have yet to ripen in areas further east in northern Wisconsin.

“These poor years can sometimes give people a sense of urgency to get out there and get what they can while they can,” David said. “But, it’s also more important in the year I guess to give the rice a good chance to ripen up. If it’s not falling very readily when you’re out harvesting, you should probably back off for a couple days and give it a chance to ripen up.”

David said most areas are ready for harvest, noting they’re seeing some of the best wild rice beds in Taylor and Forest counties.

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