- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

REMER, Minn. (AP) - Experts say spring storms negatively affected wild rice beds in Minnesota and will lead to significantly lower yields.

Rod Ustipak, a wild rice expert for the state Department of Natural Resources and Ducks Unlimited, manages the state’s wild rice program. He told Minnesota Public Radio News (http://bit.ly/1AaJz5a ) that lakes in northern Minnesota will yield 75 percent less wild rice than they did last year. Heavy rainfall this spring drowned rice in lakes from Bemidji to the Canadian border. Places like Rainy Lake, Nature’s Lake and Winnibigoshish are among the most affected.

Ustipak said lakes in other parts of the state expect harvests that are 60 percent of what they were last year.

Ustipak said wild rice management isn’t an exact science because there aren’t any exact yield statistics, like there are for corn and wheat. He said it’s difficult to calculate total pounds harvested because harvesters only get a small percentage of the crop.

Ustipak uses his six-year-old black lab, Mia, to help him determine harvest estimates.

“She’s actually a pretty good gauge,” Ustipak said, “If she’s walking, the water’s a good depth for rice. If she swims it’s too deep.”

Ustipak and around 30 locals help care for 103 of the most productive wild rice lakes in the state.

The department lists 700 lakes with substantial rice beds in Minnesota.

Levi Brown, the environmental management director for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, said the band has learned how to keep a more watchful eye on their wild rice throughout many lifetimes.

Groups of elders watch rice beds to determine the perfect moment of ripeness before they are harvested. Brown said the band’s knowledge and history keeps wild rice plentiful on the reservation, even when the larger rice beds have been flooded with rainwater.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org