Wild rice harvest under way
“It’s looking really good if the weather holds,” said Terry Helary, general manager of Northern Lights Foods Limited Partnership, an organic food operation owned and operated by the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB).
Harvesting should fi nish this week, Helary said, adding the only marring of the harvest has been some wind damage.
“We’ve defi nitely had some wind issues, which took some of the rice, but that’s part of farming.
For our own production, La Ronge Industries and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band production has been really good. Most producers on the west side and east side had a really good year,” Helary said.
Helary predicted 2008 will be the best year for wild rice since 2003.
“Water levels were very high in 2004, 05 and 06, which kept crop from maturing,” he said.
Helary said the projected three million pounds should translate into $3 million to Saskatchewan producers, but that doesn’t cover processing and “those kinds of things.” Wild Rice is harvested in what is called picks; seed is cut from the top of the plants first.
The process is repeated every four to fi ve days until the plant is harvested, he said.
Although wind did play a part in the harvest, the temperatures remained pretty fair for harvesting, Helary said earlier in September near the beginning of the harvest season.
“This is perfect. Fifteen degree weather and of course frost is the enemy.
We don’t want any frost. If it gets frost then it’s done and the harvest is over.”
But the long range forecast was for good weather throughout the month, he said.
Harvest normally takes about a month, usually beginning in late August and completing at the end of September.
This is also the second year of a three-year pilot project to offer crop insurance to wild rice producers, Helary said.
“Everything is looking really good; I would not anticipate any claims this year. I think the threeyear program gives crop insurance a feel for wild rice. I think it will lead to a permanent program that’s maybe tweaked a little bit.”
Last year’s crop balanced out with the east and west sides having lower than average yields with the central region above average.
“We didn’t need to access the program. It’s a safety valve, but it’s much better to have crop production.”
Production of wild rice carries a cost in getting ready for harvest in terms of equipment readiness and infrastructure, such as opening roads.
“You have to do that in anticipation of a good crop. If you don’t get it, you’ve spent that money and crop insurance helps to recover some of those expenditures.”
Infrastructure is one of the major differences in farming between the north and south of the province, Helary said.
“In the south normally municipalities provide roads to farmers. In the north, if you want access to your wild rice, you have got to do it yourself.”
And farmers are not going to leave that to the last minute, he said.
“You are going to start early in the summer,” he said, of a process, which can be extensive and costly.
“We’ve got areas out there; we’ve got to clear roads, maybe trees have blown down, maybe they had some fl ood issues,” Helary said.
Northern Lights Foods have contract harvesters and well over 200 producers in Northern Saskatchewan. “We’ve got 20 contract harvesters then we buy (from other producers),” he said, adding the company has buying depots in Beauval, Meadow Lake and Deschambault Lake.
Northern Lights Foods is Canada’s largest exporter of wild rice. We have wild rice markets around the world in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Valerie G. Barnes-Connell