Good wild rice harvest anticipated across Minnesota

Low water could limit lake access

A stalk of developing wild rice stands in Big Rice Lake, a 3,000 acre lake south of Remer, Minn.
John Enger | MPR News

The wild rice harvest season opens Aug. 15 in the state and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials expect a good harvest across much of the state.

“Many locations are reporting average to above average rice. In some locations the rice outlook is definitely better than last year,” said DNR Wildlife Lake Specialist Ann Geisen.

But as is the case in many years, the crop will vary from lake to lake because of summer storms and fluctuating water levels in areas with drought.

“Folks are going to want to pay attention to individual lakes,” said Geisen. “You want to go out and look and see where there's good rice."

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Scouting lakes ahead of time is critical for knowing where the crop is good, when the rice will be ripe and if a lake has limited access because of low water.

“I think scouting is more essential to rice harvesting than maybe even to deer or turkey hunting,” said Geisen.

While the season opens soon on state waters, it’s against the law to harvest rice that isn’t ripe.

“The reason why it's illegal is because of the damage it does to the rice,” said Geisen.

Rice grains fall easily from the plant when they are ripe. Harvesters trying to glean unripe rice can damage the plant as they try to knock the green rice loose. 

“Some years we've gotten complaints from other harvesters about ‘someone was out there and they just trashed the rice bed,’” she said.

Many tribal nations manage the wild rice within reservation boundaries and set their own seasons. Lakes within reservations are reserved for harvest by tribal members.

A White Earth Nation resources official said low water levels allowed increased germination and denser stands of rice on some lakes this year, but the low water levels will make getting into lakes to harvest the rice a challenge.

Resource Management Director for the 1854 Treaty Area Darren Vogt reports a mixed bag with some good rice stands and some lakes below average this year across northeast Minnesota on 1854 treaty lands.

John Hayes holds grains of rice
A grain of rice separated from its hull after being harvested and parched.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News

The DNR is also warning waterfowl hunters and ricers to be aware of overlapping seasons. Early teal and goose hunting seasons happen in September during what is often peak wild rice harvest time.

The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe has closed ricing lakes to waterfowl hunters during the Sept. 2-6 early waterfowl hunting seasons.

Geisen said the DNR typically sells between 1,500 and 2,000 wild rice licenses depending on crop quality.

Those numbers don’t include American Indians who do not need a state license if they are members of a federally recognized tribe in Minnesota. 

Minnesota has more acres of natural wild rice than any other state in the country.