Alana Voss, Agriculture Agent with Juneau and Sauk Counties and Carl Duley, Agriculture Agent in Buffalo County discuss wild rice with Jason Fleener, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Wildlife Management and and Chris Johansen, District Wildlife Supervisor for the Wisconsin DNR.
Cutting Edge: In Search of New Crops For Wisconsin
Episode 19: Natural Wild Rice
Recorded March 4, 2021
Carl Duley, JASON FISCHBACH, Jason Fleener, Alana Voss, Chris Johansen
JASON FISCHBACH 00:00
This is a podcast about new crops. You’re gonna love it. Join us on the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin.
Jason Fleener 00:10
It’s certainly a very important resource, and it’s also a resource that we have to definitely treat with respect if we want to have it in the future.
Carl Duley 00:37
Welcome to the cutting edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin. I am one of your co hosts Carl Dooley with the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension, serving as the agricultural agent in Buffalo County. And joining me as my co host is Alana Voss.
Alana Voss 00:54
Hi everyone. My name is Alana and I’m from Juneau and Sauk counties as an agricultural educator for UW Madison Division of Extension.
Carl Duley 01:02
Alana I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of excited about today’s program. It’s not our typical crop that we plant. Talking about the true wild rice and I don’t I don’t have a lot of experience in it. But how about you, Alana?
Alana Voss 01:17
I don’t. You know, we get it from the store. We try to eat healthy. You know, we enjoy that. But you know, we’ve had a lot of questions lately on people interested in rice.
Carl Duley 01:26
Cool. Cool. Well, we have two experts with us today we have Jason Fleener, who’s with the wetland habitats specialist with Wisconsin DNR and Chris Johansen, also with the Wisconsin DNR. So Chris and Jason or maybe start with Jason, if you could just briefly introduce yourselves and and tell us what you all do with the DNR especially related to wild rice.
Jason Fleener 01:47
Sure. Good morning. So my position is in the Bureau of Wildlife Management and DNR and I’m based in Madison, so I have more of a statewide position. So my position covers a lot of different things. It focuses on wetland habitat for wildlife, primarily for waterfowl. So I help administer the state waterfowl stamp program for habitat projects. I help our managers in the field with the resources they need to manage their infrastructure for wetland impairments. And then a cool part of my job is to help with wild rice conservation. So currently, I’m serving as co chair on the state’s wild rice Advisory Committee. And I also co chair the joint state tribal wild rice management committee as well.
Carl Duley 02:38
Cool, cool. And, and, Chris, if you could also just tell us a little bit about yourself and how you’re related into the wild rice story.
Chris Johansen 02:48
You bet. Yeah, thanks, Carl. Appreciate the opportunity to be on the podcast today. So again, my name is Chris Johansen, my title is district wildlife supervisor for the Wisconsin DNR. So I’m based out of the Eau Claire office. And I have oversight of the wildlife management field operations in about 19 counties in the western side of the state. So, how that relates directly to wild rice is we have habitat managers within all these different counties. And on some of our state wildlife areas, we actually have flowages where we manage and sometimes we are managing for wild rice. Today, I would say that I’m wearing a different hat. And that’s just kind of my own personal hat where I’ve been an individual who has taken part in harvesting wild rice for about 20 years in Wisconsin. And so I’m hoping I can share kind of some insight into the ins and outs of it and the practicality of how you actually go about go out and and go about taking part in that activity.
Carl Duley 03:51
Great. Thanks, Chris. And Jason and I do have to give Chris a little bit of kudos here, because he gave me my first sample of true wild rice probably 10 years ago and found out what I was calling wild rice and eating before wasn’t even close to what he gave me. But uh, why don’t we start with just if you could give a brief history of what wild rice is and how it fits into the Wisconsin landscape.
Jason Fleener 04:15
Sure, I think I could take that one so so wild rice, I use the term true wild rice. And so I’ll also refer to it as natural wild rice, which is, which is a native plant in Wisconsin and actually we have two species of wild rice that occur in Wisconsin. One is commonly referred to as northern wild rice and that’s the species that people will typically harvest for food. And then we have Southern wild rice or also referred to as river rice. Um which you’ll find oftentimes growing in in river bottoms in those types of systems around the Mississippi River, or the Wisconsin River, a lot of the back channel areas that you’ll you’ll find that so. There’s there’s a long history of it that’s really really deep with with native cultures in Wisconsin and and since European settlement also with with settlers too so it’s there’s a lot of value for a wild rice placed on it as a natural community, its ecological benefits cultural and spiritual benefits as well.
Carl Duley 05:27
Is there a real difference or can you distinguish the difference between the the the river and the northern wild rice?
Jason Fleener 05:35
Sure sure, so, if you look at each plant the the northern rice is actually a little bit shorter so they they’ll look very similar except for I guess the size and dimensions of the plant part so the northern rice is is a shorter plant, however, the seed is actually larger and so that’s what makes it so good for harvesting is because it’s low to the water so it’s accessible and it’s a larger grain so the southern rice is it can be very quite tall and if you are on the surface of the water it can extend perhaps up to 10 feet high so it’s quite large, very robust, it’s a larger stem, thicker leaf, but but as I said the grain for that one would be smaller.
Alana Voss 06:25
How do you find the difference between that and like a cultivated you know what we’re seeing in stores, things of that sort?
Jason Fleener 06:31
Sure. I guess I’m not real familiar with how the plant looks with a lot of cultivated rice. I haven’t visited any, any the paddies but yeah, so there’s a difference. So wild rice has been domesticated, so to speak, over the years and going back probably over 50 years ago, it was starting to be domesticated. And eventually through genetic modifications you you have this product that’s suitable for harvesting by machine and then these large impoundments and you’ll find most of the cultivated or farmed rice you can you also hear the term paddy rice in Minnesota as well as in southern Canada. So the grain of that rice, you’ll you’ll see or you’ll find that in grocery stores a lot of times you’ll see you know wild rice harvested from Minnesota which which is great to eat but it the grain looks quite different. So if you if you take a bag of that you’ll see a very dark like black green sort of rice, whereas the true or natural wild rice that grows in the wild is typically a lighter colored grain, you have a lot more variation in the color of grains any anywhere from a light light brownish color to two different shades of grey and dark colors. So you have a quite a variance in coloration. And so another difference is the way that the way that the grains are cooked. So, cultivated wild rice, you typically have to cook a little bit longer. So the the natural wild rice tends to be a little bit softer in texture and it has a little bit more of a robust flavor. But, you know if you were to offer me both, I would I would certainly take and eat both in a heartbeat. But I’m not picky but I am a little partial to the natural wild rice being a harvester myself so.
Carl Duley 08:43
Maybe maybe Chris if you could comment a little bit you talked about river rice and and I know you live close to the Mississippi and I don’t know if we have much of the river rice in the Mississippi backwaters but and more general statewide. We know we have backwaters filling up with sedimentation and erosion issues, has that done anything to the natural habitat for the natural wild rice or?
Chris Johansen 09:11
Sure yeah, certainly, you know, there are a number of limitations and I would say threats to wild rice and one of them certainly is sedimentation and erosion. That type of thing where wetlands are filled in, or their you know, the sediment is modified that’s certainly a threat. Specifically to the to the river rice here along the Mississippi River where I’m beaming in from the bluffs of Buffalo County and the river is not that far away. We’ve actually seen an expansion of wild rice over the years within the National Wildlife Refuge System. And I think that part of the reason for that is certainly over the years we have seen the river has become, you know, cleaner, it’s become the water quality has gotten better over the last 20-30 years in response to that we’ve seen definitely an expansion of wild rice
Carl Duley 10:10
So besides us harvesting and eating wild rice. Any wildlife there really go after wild rice or is it pretty much just us?
Chris Johansen 10:19
Go ahead, Jason. I’ll let you take that one.
Jason Fleener 10:23
Yeah. Yeah, I’d looked at Chris here both of us can could answer these sort of questions being biologists but but yeah, rice is very ecologically beneficial to a lot of different species to waterfowl, particularly, to both to both diving ducks and dabbling ducks will really find it highly nutritious and energetic. And it’s especially important for migration, as as these ducks will stop over and fly through in the fall. And they’ll stop in these wetlands. And they’ll they’ll find the grains of rice on the bottom of the sediment and dabbling ducks. If they can reach down far enough they’ll pick it up and then diving ducks especially like ringneck ducks really depend on wild rice. So especially in northern Wisconsin, it’s it’s a very important food source for ducks. So not to mention other wildlife species as well. Muskrats really will utilize it as food source, they help build their huts with the with the material. It’s important for a lot of different types of birds that migrate, especially with rails, Sora rail and Virginia rail that the Sora rail is commonly referred to as rice birds by a lot of folks. Black birds will eat it, swans, the list goes on and on. So besides wildlife, you know, fish will utilize utilize it too. The rice beds in the summer provide really good nursery habitat for a lot of fish. Good area to catch Pike, Bass, Sunfish, so. So yeah, I can ramble on about its benefits to the ecosystem.
Alana Voss 12:12
It almost sounds like you need a scarecrow out there. Oh, goodness,
Chris Johansen 12:20
That would I guess I’ll just add a little bit to that as well, kind of from management perspective as wild rice is really unique and significant as well in some of the flowages that we have in northern Wisconsin and Central Wisconsin that we manage, where we’ve actually been able to reestablish it. And it’s unbelievable the wildlife response that you get, once you get wild rice into a water body, and all those species that Jason just identified, they, they will definitely respond positively. And they they find that source of food and they utilize it and depend upon it during their their annual cycle. So it’s a it’s just an amazing resource for wildlife.
Carl Duley 13:05
Cool. Cool. So you brought it up. Let’s go there. Talk about establishing it. And how do you go about encouraging wild rice growth? Or how do you quote plant it? Obviously, you aren’t taking a tractor and a grain drill out there. Describe the process of trying to expand or renew wildlife or wild rice plantings?
Chris Johansen 13:30
Sure. So, so wild rice, you can plant I guess. So going back to the the true natural wild rice versus paddy rice. So if, if one were to take this on Wisconsin, so DNR highly encourages folks to to really understand where the source of rice is coming from. And for genetic purposes, we want to make sure that people are finding sources of natural wild rice. So if you were to buy it from a dealer or harvest yourself, obviously you know, it’s natural, but you want to know where it’s coming from. So that’s one of the most important things. And if you look at rice, there’s a lot of different genotypes of wild rice and you know, some are more adapted to deeper water, some are more adaptive shallow water or fast flowing water or vice versa. So knowing the characteristics of the ecosystem in which it came from is important and you want to try to mimic that and where you’re going to transplant it so you do not need a permit from Wisconsin DNR to to plant wild rice, which is good to know. However, there are some guidelines or caveats that we really want people to be aware of. And one thing to be mindful of is when you plant wild rice, you need to understand the surrounding area. So you have to picture where you’re seeding that being a big rice bed and you know, that following fall or the subsequent years, so you probably don’t want to plant on a lake where where you’re throwing it on your neighbor’s shoreline, you know, are near their shoreline that is, so it, it does get quite thick. And you know, if it’s successful, it could, it could block travel areas for boats. So that’s something to be mindful of, or it can block, you know, viewscapes, you know, and some people will certainly welcome that, but not everyone, so you just need to be mindful of that. So it can be planted on on private property. So river beds, technically are privately owned, and so, so is the material that stems from them. So technically, if you were to see it on a river bed in which the private land ownership extends the channel, that area is privately owned and held. And so if one were to harvest that area, they would need permission from that landowner. Otherwise, generally speaking, lake beds of Wisconsin are, are the title of the state. And so that’s where the public harvest comes into play. So So yeah, in terms of, to get back to your question about how do you seed it or plant it. So wild rice is simply just broadcast, that that’s it, you just throw it in the water, and you just want to make sure that you’re getting green rice, so to speak, so you don’t, so it’s unfinished rice, if you process the rice then it won’t germinate, obviously. So if you get a source of green rice, you want to plant it, ideally, within 48 hours after it’s harvested, to make sure that it doesn’t spoil. And you just simply, simply throw it in and broadcast it in the water by hand, it’s that simple. The depth you want to shoot for is anywhere between six inches to three feet, where the high water mark normally is. And you would ideally plant it somewhere where there’s a very gentle or soft current, and that’s where it will thrive, the best an organic lake or river bottom would would be ideal as well. So all those factors combined can can help you figure out where to plant rice. Seeding rates recommended is about 50 pounds per acre. And if you can seed the same area, two or three years in a row, then you’ll be more successful in getting that bed established in the long term. So, I know it’s a lot to take in. But there there is some guidance out there, if anyone’s interested in looking into it further.
Alana Voss 17:52
And where would they look for that? Or they’re looking for a dealer? You know, where are those resources located at? I mean, this is a very unique opportunity for individuals.
Chris Johansen 18:02
Right? Yeah. So if one were to obtain some rice, there’s a few different options. One is they can harvest it themselves. And we’ll probably get to that in a moment talking about the harvest. But they can just get it themselves and then transplant it somewhere else. Otherwise, they can buy wild rice from dealers, there’s a lot of wholesale dealers in northern Wisconsin, and especially in Minnesota, there’s a lot of them. And, you know, I guess I couldn’t point you to a particular place to find those dealers. I guess one good starting point would be to contact some of the Ojibwe tribal offices and sometimes they have good connections with folks that that will sell rice. Other than that there are a handful of seed nurseries in Wisconsin that will sell it as well. The catch there is like I mentioned before, if you get rice you will want to seed it within 48 hours. So if that can’t be done, the next option is to actually take the rice in like a feed sack and soak it for whatever period of time until it’s ready to be seeded. So so a lot of these nurseries will will soak the seed in in the sacks and just a forewarning it can be quite smelly. So So if anyone were to buy it, buy that, just be prepared for that. It’s just the nature of the beast. In an ideal world, if you know of a water that’s going to be seeded and if you know that there’s a lot of ducks and different types of birds that will eat it. If If you can hold out until just before ice starts the form, so in a lot of areas that might be in like early November, that would be a good time to seed because a lot of waterfowl that migrate through what it will have passed through by then. And then that’ll make sure that your your seed is not eaten before it has a chance to germinate.
Carl Duley 20:07
So on to harvest then. I know it’s kind of an art form, I understand. Could you explain a little bit about the harvest? When, how you do it, what you’re allowed, do you need permits, etc?
Chris Johansen 20:24
Sure, sure, I’ll talk about that. First off, I think that it starts with understanding what the activity is, and understanding a bit about the biology of rice. We talked about that where you can find rice, those types of things. And I think that there’s some really great resources for if there’s someone listening that you’re thinking, wow I’d really like take part in that, how do I do it, I think start on the internet and explore a little bit on or Wisconsin DNR website, we’ve got some resources. And then there’s a fantastic resource available through the Great Lakes, Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, they have a lot of information on rice, the the significance of rice to their to the Ojibwe nation culture, where you can find it that type of thing. And I know for myself every year, I start by taking a look at that website in August, because what they do is they provide a great service and in the fact that they are monitoring the rice beds, and they provide on their website, actually, the different water bodies and an assessment of how that that rice paddy is looking or that rice bed rather, is looking for harvest. So they have just the objective rating, like average, good, excellent, something like that. So so so now, once you’ve kind of gotten you’re getting it scoped out, are you going to go to north northwest Wisconsin, or north-central, northeast? I mean, northern Wisconsin is a big area, and identify your water body. The other things you need to be aware of is there are some very basic regulations, and you have to have a license, it’s a, it’s a very minimal license fee, it’s $8.25 for an individual. And then there’s a bonus there. If you have that actually, actually, that license covers your spouse or minor child if they live in the same household. So for $8.25, you’re set on the license aspect. And then a couple other really important regulations is we regulate the size of the of the watercraft they’re using so it can’t be longer than 17 feet, can’t be wider than 38 inches, and then can only be propelled by by muscle basically. So push pole or paddle. So most people utilize a canoe, a canoe fits that bill extremely well. And then to actually knock the rice we call it knocking it in. So you’re trying to you’re pulling that, the stem over and knocking it into the canoe, we regulate the the size of the sticks that you can use. So 38 inches is the maximum length that can be utilized for that. And then the last important regulation is we regulate the hours, so it’s 10am to sunset. And then some bodies of water are actually date regulated as well. So they will open on a certain date, then they may close and they may reopen. And that’s just to make sure that the regulating the harvest through that way. So those are the important things. And once you kind of get all those identified and figure out where you’re going and making sure that you got your license making sure the seasons open, you get those regulations, find yourself a good partner is the best way. And then it’s a two person activity you hop in a canoe, you’re in this rice bed and one individual is generally in the back of the canoe with a push pole. So they’re just standing there propelling along, and the other person is then doing the knocking. So they’re extending their arms out and extending the stick as far as as they can. And then gently sweeping back and pulling the stock back over the top of the canoe. And then it’s a gentle stroke or a tap, so you’re not really banging on it with that other stick, you’re just gently stroking and tapping it and the rice that’s ripe and ready to fall will will then come off the, off of the head and then hopefully fall into the canoe. And that just continues back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And and you mentioned it’s an art Carl and I think that there, I’m certainly no artist, so I usually end up being the push person. But the person that’s knocking I’ve seen some individuals that are highly efficient, more so than others. And they just develop some technique, but it’s definitely it’s a thing of beauty actually to watch someone that’s that’s really great at it and watching them as they gently bring that rice in and stroke it and in when the rice is falling well. They hit that and it just dances off the the head of the rice and falls into the canoe and you can hear it tinkle. And it’s, it’s a really, it’s really exciting for an individual that’s looking to harvest a bunch of wild rice and knowing that, in the end, this is going to be coming back to as a processed product back to your, your pantry to eat throughout the year, it’s it’s really enjoyable.
Carl Duley 25:22
Okay, now, I do some work with small grains. So I’m looking at, we get, I can harvest even with my little plot equipment, I can do a couple acres a day, and that would equal a couple of 100 bushel. So when you go out for four or five hours harvesting wild rice, how many pounds do you get in a good year, let’s say or an average year in the bottom of your canoe?
Chris Johansen 25:50
Well, I would say that, that might be a little bit different, depending upon each individual that you ask, but for me, my standard is if I spend five or six hours in a canoe, and we come back with 100 pounds of green rice, to me, that’s a that’s a pretty darn good day. Others might say no, it’s 120 pounds, you know, there, they might be a little more efficient than I am. But anytime that I come off the water body with 100 pounds of green rice, that to me is a really good day. And that doesn’t happen all that often. And it really depends upon the year, sometimes we have really good rice yields. And in other years, it’s not as good. But you know, I’ve had days when we’ve come off after four or five hours with with just 30 pounds of green rice. But in the end, you’re still gonna have a beautiful finished product after you go through that process to to preserve it.
Carl Duley 26:46
So so taking green rice to make it something that will store and keep what do you got to do, then?
Chris Johansen 26:50
What I do is utilize, there’s a number of individuals throughout the state that have developed mechanized processes, I guess, to do that, and I use a individual up in Spooner, Wisconsin, I know another one another individual up in Hayward. But it really is very similar to what Native Americans did. It’s just using a, using a mechanized process, but the process is the same. First you dry it out. So as soon as you’re, you’re done with the ricing aspect, you come back to the landing, take it all out of the canoe and take it, usually what we end up doing is putting it into feed sacks and then bring it back to my house and I’ll put it spread it out in the garage on a tarp on the garage floor on a tarp. And then it just dries there. And that’s extremely important. And I should back up and just say, even prior to that point, as you’re out there, harvesting the rice, it’s really important to pay attention to things like getting water in the boat, getting mud, sand rocks, those types of things. My partner and I that I rice with, we always like to stop every 45 minutes or so and just kind of pick out some of the stems and some of the chaff and that type of thing that you get in there. So so it really starts, the treatment of the rice is really important if you want a really good final product. So, so you’ve done that, you spread it out, you dry it, usually dry it for two, three days, periodically rotating it, raking it a little bit, something like that, just to mix it around, and that moisture comes out and then take it to a processor. And what they’re gonna do then is take that rice and they generally batch batch them in their individual batches. And it’s a process of heating it up. And the first step, and that dries it out more, it loosens the hull and then it goes through another process where the hull is actually removed from the rice. And then the final step then is basically winnowing. Were just taking a fanning mill and blowing all that chaff off and then you’re left with that really nice product of a beautiful finished grain of rice.
Carl Duley 29:11
Oh, now you’ve mentioned the tribes a couple times. And I know wild rice is really important. Could you talk about what are the, what what what, first of all, what native tribes are really involved with wild rice? Is it important to all the tribes in Wisconsin? And what does it really mean to them? In their culture?
Chris Johansen 29:32
Sure. Yeah, I can definitely speak to that and certainly recognize that I’m not a member of the Ojibwe tribes, but I’m certainly again, a ricing fanatic and learning more about the activity that I’m doing. You can’t go ricing without appreciating the cultural significance of wild rice in Wisconsin to the Ojibwe people. And this goes back hundreds, 1000s of years actually, when the Ojibwe people settled in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota area, because of wild rice, where they were out in the east of, of where they are now. And, and basically, they were this, there’s a oral tradition that they were told to travel to where the, they’ll find the food that grows upon the water and that was wild rice. And they ended up in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan. So historically, extremely important to their physical and spiritual sustenance. And still today, extremely extremely important to their, their tribal traditions, their, their, their sustenance, all those things. And they play a huge part as well. And I think Jason could speak to this even more in management of, of rice in Wisconsin today.
Jason Fleener 30:57
Yeah, really, for all the recognized tribes in Wisconsin, beyond the Ojibwe tribes there are six of them in Wisconsin, and I believe all of them have some history or importance or connection to wild rice. The Menominee is another one of them. If you think about the tribal word manoomin. That’s, it has a lot of different ways that can be written. But that’s the root word of the Menominee people as well. So beyond that, yeah, I think all the tribes have some connection to it. And even further west, beyond Wisconsin, you have the Dakota people too, who also have a deep connection with wild rice. And going back hundreds of years, there was often wars over wild rice between tribal peoples as well. And that speaks to how important it is. So, you know, it’s not just a resource, it’s, it has a deep spiritual connection too with tribal people. And, you know, I think that’s lost in a lot of a lot of non native people, just due to bad spiritual connection. And it’s not just a resource, it’s a being. So it’s something that really needs to be understood, I think. So with the with the Ojibwe tribes, there are six in Wisconsin, what’s really important about our histories, in the early to mid 1800s, there were treaties with the US government. And in those treaties, it it asserted that, beyond reservations, that in the ceded territory of Wisconsin That that the Ojibwe tribes especially have rights to to harvesting wild rice, and it was specifically pointed out and that was solidified in the Voigt case. Not so, so much in the distant past in the 1980s. And with that, the Voigt Task Force was formed. And then also, that’s how our joint wild rice committee was formed, and so that it formed a good relationship between the tribes and the Wisconsin DNR to to manage wild rice. And so we work cooperatively on a lot of projects. And, and we, as Chris mentioned earlier about the date regulated lakes, and we work with the tribal rice chiefs in figuring out when the best time is to open those lakes in terms of when it’s ready. So. So yeah, there’s a long history between the tribes in the state and the federal government.
Alana Voss 33:42
You talked about how, you know, some of these different national wildlife areas, the rice, you know, there’s more and more rice. And then there’s the public harvesting, you know, how does that process work for someone you know, that wants to potentially get into it, but don’t want to step on toes? Or, you know, cause any hiccups with another person that’s also public harvesting, you know. Can you kind of talk through that process?
Chris Johansen 34:04
You mean is, just to make sure I understand your question correctly. So, let’s say you end up at a boat landing, and there’s, you know, two or three people and y’all want to go out there at the same time.
Alana Voss 34:15
Chris Johansen 34:16
Yep. Sure. Sure.
Carl Duley 34:18
Jason mentioned rice wars. We don’t really want to have any more.
Alana Voss 34:22
Chris Johansen 34:24
We we definitely do not want to have rice wars. Um, well, a couple thoughts about that. First off, generally, a lot of our northern Wisconsin lakes where we have large rice beds are big enough where, you know, you can, you can have a fair number of people out there, as long as they’re respectful and, and respecting each other’s space. And generally when you when you have a nice big rice bed, what you’ll end up doing is you’re just going in a straight line. So you’ll pick a line and you’re gonna you know, it might be 200 yards long and you’ll be just push pulling along, you’ve got your other person knocking, and then you get to the end of that bed turn around and come back. So it’s not like there’s a lot of traffic going, you know, in and out, back and forth, you all kind of get on, get on a course. And you take that and, and I, I can say honestly, in 20 years of ricing, that I’ve never been on a, on a body of water, where I felt like, oh, there’s too many people here, we’re, we’re competing. Usually, even in years where maybe the rice crop is not the greatest across the whole state, but you’ve got just a couple of bodies of water, where it’s where it’s pretty good, you know, in those years, then you’ll have more people showing up at one specific lake. And even in those situations, people are really respectful of each other giving each other space and, and I’ve never seen an instance where, you know, we’re, we’re approaching a rice war. So. But that being said, I think it’s important for, you know, for folks to know, if they’re, if they’re new to it. Yeah, thing is, if you’re standing on a boat landing and you’re both going out, you know, just talk. Where are you going? You know, which way are you going? And if there’s, you know, two beds on a, two areas on a lake that’s got rice on it, you know, why not separate and go out and, and take a different part of the lake. But so, yeah, even that, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of a fun activity, because it’s, you know, it’s relatively quiet. And as you’re going along, you sometimes you can’t see because the rice is so tall, you don’t even see anyone else, you just periodically see a push, pull come up into the air and see the top of someone’s head or something like that. And, and, you know, it’s not, there’s not a lot of noise or commotion, there’s no boats, or there’s no motors running. So you’ll be going along and all of a sudden geez there’s somebody right there and you’ll pass and you don’t even realize it because it is such kind of a quiet solitude activity.
Jason Fleener 36:54
One thing I’ll add to that is I think between rice harvesters, I think it’s not so much a space issue that that causes conflict. I think what really gets to some harvesters is that other folks, whether if they’re just beginning harvesters, or veterans, for that matter will harvest either too early or with improper techniques. So this, this relates to respecting the resource. And, oftentimes, if folks get out too early, as Chris mentioned earlier, that the rice if you are, if you’re taking that the ricing stick, and then you’re you’re gently raking, raking the tops, it should fall very easily into the boat. And if it if the rice is not ripe or ready, it won’t fall. And so some people will try to force it by whacking it hard. And then what that does is that will take the milk stage of the rice if its undeveloped, and then it will it could impede its growth and development. So it will not mature. And then furthermore, it’ll kink the stems of the plant if you’re really whacking too hard. And I think that’s what really gets to some ricers who really know what they’re doing, or who really respect the resource, that some others won’t understand that. So, so if folks are looking to harvest rice for the first time, you know, one thing I would recommend is, is if you know somebody, or if you can get lined up with somebody who has done this before, they can really show you the right timing technique that would be really be helpful. Otherwise, you can watch videos online through, YouTube’s got a lot of great videos on that. And I think one thing in DNR that we’re working on is to try to come out with more videos that really talk about you know, the timing and the different stages of growth and whatnot. So, so stay tuned.
Carl Duley 38:53
Related to that. I know DNR does a lot of educational programs, at parks etc. Do you do any wild rice harvest 101 type programs? or do any of the tribes have an organized program like wild rice 101 learn to respect to learn how to harvest etc?
Jason Fleener 39:14
Yeah, I think I think the tribes have done a better job at that. In some cases, they’ll have rice camps, you’ll you’ll hear that term a lot and that the rice camp is really a concept that dates back hundreds of years where, where tribes will will travel from lake to lake and then set up camp and harvest the rice and then process it, but I guess the modern term of rice camp is or a training session is that you you would have somebody who knows what they’re doing and then teach a group of people, so I’ve seen some organizations do that as well. DNR has not gotten into any sort of proactive sort of training or teaching, but you know, that’s something we can definitely look into in the future here.
Alana Voss 40:02
And then one other question I had for you guys, you know, we talked about how we have some wildlife that can, you know, like to enjoy the rice as well. But do you find any issues with diseases or you know, weeds especially, you know, there’s concerns with invasive weeds on our lakes, rivers streams. You know, are we seeing any issues with that, with rice areas as well?
Jason Fleener 40:25
Yeah, so maybe I’ll take the first part of that question. First, regarding diseases. So there, there is a common disease that affects rice, and it’s called brown spot disease. And it’s a a fungal disease that, in some cases can essentially wipe out a rice bed, so the brown spot will settle in late in the summer, oftentimes, when, when the rice kernels are maturing, or during that, that stage, so if you see a bed that’s been affected, as its name would imply, you would see that you know, the green leaves of the rice that have all these little brown spots on them. And from, from a distance, you can even tell the difference, in some cases, if the bed is infected bad enough. And so yeah, that will affect the maturity of the grain. And, and ultimately, it could affect the long term sustainability of a rice bed on the body of water. So that’s definitely a concern. And we, we don’t understand brown spot really well yet. But we suspect that climate change is exacerbating the brown spot disease. So, something we definitely look out for. Other than that, you know, there’s, there’s a type of moth that in the larval stage, it’s called a rice worm, that you’ll find a lot of times in rice beds and so I’m sure Chris can attest to this, I’m sure he’s had a lot of worms he’s dealt with in the past. You’ll, you’ll find worms and spiders that contend to bite in so they, you know, they will eat the rice themselves. But you know, this, I guess it’s, it’s part of the natural system, and just the way that mother nature intended, I suppose. So you’ll find that. So the second part of your question is invasive species. And so, one thing to keep in mind is that rice is an annual plant, and so it, it reproduces totally by seed. And it’s, it’s like an early successional plant. So in other words, it prefers disturbance. So if, if you’re able to draw down a flowage, or do something different with water levels, that will ultimately impact the aquatic plant community as a whole. And it gives wild rice an edge. So if you see an impoundment that’s drawn down, or in a dry drought year on a natural lake, you’ll see that rice really will flourish in a lot of cases if the seed bank is is still there. So, so yeah, wild rice will compete with aquatic vegetation, you know, a lot, a lot of times that’s native, you know, like water shield and, and pickerel weed and things of that nature. But otherwise, invasive, cattails, phragmites, are becoming a greater concern as those, species tend to migrate further northward with climate change, as well as Eurasian Watermilfoil. So those are, so really need to manage the aquatic plant communities as a whole to get good rice.
Alana Voss 43:41
In some of these, you know, some of the lakes around here anyway, you know, they’re taking drastic measures to try to, you know, cut down on the weeds, and some of those things, sometimes they put out, you know, chemical or things of that sort, you know, is that a concern, you know, if someone were to put chemical out, obviously that may affect the crop as well.
Jason Fleener 43:58
Yeah, certainly. So, you know, if anyone has to play chemical, like, as a lake shore owner, for example, you know, they should really check with their their lakes association to see if there’s any sort of permits that they need to obtained. Otherwise, folks need to contact the Wisconsin DNR, the aquatic plant Management Specialist for their area, and determine what kind of permits they might need. And so during that screening or review, if you will, a lot of times those specialists will check to see if there is rice in the area, and sometimes that might affect the parameters of that permit or whether or not it’s issued at all.
Carl Duley 44:27
Well, you mentioned a couple things, you mentioned climate change, which affects a lot of areas. Chris mentioned some of the sedimentation may help help some of our beds. What is the future of wild rice in Wisconsin, the true natural or native wild rice?
Jason Fleener 44:58
Yeah, so it, it has an uphill battle. I think, you know, over over the decades, you know, we’ve seen a loss in terms of distribution throughout the state and the sustainability of a lot of beds. And there’s so many different confounding factors that affect rice. So another another one is, is just land use and the alteration of waterways, water flow, subsurface water, and surface water, so roadways, culverts, ditches, dams, they all affect water flow. And oftentimes, that’s to the detriment of rice, because, as I mentioned before, rice needs certain conditions to thrive, you know, the water depth, the flow, things of that nature. So, so human activity has really altered the landscape, especially northern Wisconsin, so. So yeah, it’s, it’s really important to be mindful of how those activities are affecting our waters. Number two, I would say is, is the use of watercraft on a lot of these waters. So one important thing is for rice during its growth stages is during the late spring, early summer, in May, and June is is when rice will germinate, it comes to the water column, and then eventually it reaches the surface. So it’s an emergent plant. But before it emerges from the water, there’s this stage called the floating leaf stage. And so the root systems are not really fully well developed yet at that point. And so one of the biggest threats is watercraft use, and so a lot of times with wakes and wave action, that will actually disturb the water column and uproot a lot of plants. And so you’ll also see that from heavy rain events, from flooding, and I mentioned climate change as being one of the factors. So those sort of things can really wipe out a rice bed, and a lot of people don’t even realize that it’s happened because they see this, they might see this plant coming up, but they have no idea what it is so so it’s important to be mindful of that, you know, if local ordinances can be adapted for you know, slow, no wake and those areas, those important rice bed areas, you know, that would really help. So, yeah, otherwise, climate change is another big one. And that, you know, there, that affects so many different things. You know, we were projecting there to be more heavy rainfall events, more flooding that will affect rice, we’re dealing with, in North Central Wisconsin in the Highland area right now, there’s, there’s a long, long term period of of high water table, and that has taken a lot of our important historic lakes and that are really suffering right now for rice just because the water is so so deep in those areas. So that’s a big concern. You know, carp, carp is another one. You know, some lakes in Wisconsin, take Clam Lake in Burnett county has been dealing with common carp, had been battling those issues. It’s been a historic rice water, and there’s been a lot of contracting efforts to remove the carp on that lake. And ultimately, carp will disturb the sediments and uproot a lot of the rice and so what you saw over the decades is that that those rice beds have been declining. But now, over the last couple years, I think we’ve seen a good result with those carp control efforts, we’ve seen the rice come back in a lot of those bays so. So that’s another threat. And you know, the list goes on and on. But you know, the department and the tribes are really working together to address those issues the best we can.
Carl Duley 48:51
Great, great. This has been been super, I learned a lot, I hope our listeners do also and and I really appreciate Jason and Chris for being on today. Any last comments that you would have about wild rice and that listeners should know?
Alana Voss 49:15
I was gonna say any tips that you would have given yourself if you were starting out again?
Chris Johansen 49:20
I would say that Jason really nailed the biggest tip that I could provide on harvesting wild rice and participating. and that is if you can identify someone who’s done it before, like anything, to shorten the learning curve. And, and I guess I would just you know, kind of wrap up saying it’s a really, really enjoyable activity. It’s a really unique activity. Here in Wisconsin. If you’ve never done it and you enjoy outdoor recreation and you enjoy harvesting your own food, taking something, a natural renewable resource and taking it back to have later throughout the fall, throughout the winter, as a, as a great source of food, then I think this is a fantastic activity that you should think more about and explore. And, and the final thought I have is just treat treat wild rice with with a high level of respect. And we touched on that earlier, but it’s certainly a very important resource. And it’s also a resource that we have to definitely treat with respect if we want to have it in the future. So learn more about it. Utilize it, and treat it with respect and, and and yeah, I encourage anybody to try it that’s never done it.
Carl Duley 50:40
Great, Jason, any last comments?
Jason Fleener 50:44
Yeah, you know, just do your research. If you’re interested in harvesting, you know, even if you don’t know somebody who’s harvested and if you just want to try it on your own. Don’t be bashful. Do your research first. And the DNR’s got a good wild rice web page, go to DNR.wi.gov search for wild rice, that’ll bring you right to our page. The regulations are all there, a lot of good information and facts. Look at, watch our video, do YouTube videos, things like that. Plan ahead. Before you know it, late August, early September, are the peak times for harvesting rice. So, do your research and planning ahead. And if you’re going to harvest make sure that you have a a processor lined up ahead of time and communicate with them. So you know where you can drop your rice off right away. So you’re not wondering what to do with your product.
Carl Duley 51:42
Cool. Jason and Chris, thank you very much, I think Alana and I have enjoyed this a lot. And it’s not our typical new crop, emerging crop that we’re looking at. But I think we did learn that there are some things we can do to help cultivate, so to speak, wild rice or at least expand beds and it help the planting. So thank you all. Again, this has been The Cutting Edge, a podcast in search of new crops for Wisconsin, presented by UW Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension. Thanks again and we hope to see you all again soon.
JASON FISCHBACH 52:40
Brought to you by the University of Wisconsin Madison Division of Extension.