Excessive moisture, cool spring swamps wild rice

Harvest hampered | Wild rice stand upright above the water but heavy runoff drowned many plants

WINNIPEG — Many crops have felt the effects of excessive moisture and a late, cool spring this year — even the ones that grow in water. 


Weather conditions have been tough on this year’s wild rice crops, according to an industry official. 


“What we’re hearing right now in northwestern Ontario is (that the) high water and the cool spring is inhibiting the harvest,” said Murray Ratuski, president of Floating Leaf Fine Foods, which operates the Shoal Lake Wild Rice processing facility. 


The company has wild rice crops in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northwestern Ontario. 


“(In) Manitoba, we’re just waiting to see how things look. In the inland lakes, there are reports that it looks like it’s going to be an average crop where water levels have been fluctuating on the river systems because of the high water, rain and lots of runoff this year.”


Wild rice, which grows in shallow water in lakes, rivers and streams, stands upright above the water surface as it progresses through the season. High water can make it difficult for the crop to stand. 


“A lot of the plants didn’t get the chance to break the water or to come up through the water, so they’re basically drowned,” said Ratuski. 


“And (for the) ones that did, it’s going to be a slower and later season because of the cooler spring. The rice needs a warmer spring.”


Ratuski added that crops are doing better now that temperatures have warmed, but it will still be a below-average harvest. 


“Saskatchewan has the same thing with the high water,” added Rat-uski. 


“They’ve got some inland lakes and river systems that are looking good around the shore, but high water, a lot of runoff, rain and a cool spring makes it look like it’s going to be another lean year.”


Ratuski said that harvest won’t begin for another two to three weeks, depending on how the crop progresses. 


“Last year’s crop was about the same as this year,” said Ratuski. “We’re down I think about 40 percent from an average year as far as Canadian production goes. So we’re certainly looking at another lean year.”


Prices are up right now with the low supply and high demand, he said. 


“Most of the demand for wild rice in Canada is pretty steady and consistent and same with the U.S.,” said Ratuski. 


“But the growth is in Europe and Asia — Japan, China, Hong Kong, etc.”