Cultivating wild rice in U.S.A and Canada

Cultivating wild rice in USA and Canada

Zizania palustris L: One of the wild rice species of USA

Harvesting wild rice in USA



Zizania L.
Zizania aquatica L.
Zizania palustris L.
Zizania texana Hitchc.
Zizania latifolia (Griseb.) Turcz.ex Stapf

The genus, Zizania, was named by Gronovius in Leyden, Holland from a plant collected in Virginia by John Clayton in 1739 (Aiken et al. 1988). Linnaeus in 1753 provided the binomial Zizania aquatica from the Clayton specimen.
There are four species of the Zizania wild rice: Z. palustris L., Z. aquatica L., Z. texana Hitchcock, and Z. latifolia (Griseb.) Turcz. ex Stapf. The first three are native to North America and the last is native to Asia
Z. palustris and Z. aquatica are annuals, the others perennials. Z. palustris, the large seeded type, grows in the Great Lakes region and is the species grown as a field crop. Z. aquatica grows in the St. Lawrence River, eastern and southeastern United States coastal areas, and in Louisiana. Its seeds are slender and are not harvested for food. Z. texana grows in a small area in Texas, has slender seeds, and also is not harvested for food. North American species have a chromosome number of 2n = 30; Z. latifolia has 2n = 34 (Aiken et al. 1988).
In North America, the species, Zizania palustris, is found (primarily) in areas west and north of the Great Lakes. In addition, there are several other species that grow in limited quantities in other North American locations. Zizania aquatica is found growing in isolated pockets from New Jersey to Florida. And, Zizania texana is found growing in the San Marcos River area located just north of San Antonio, Texas. Also, the species, Zizania latifolia can be found growing in various regions of Asia.
Since about 1950, wild rice has been in the process of becoming a domesticated crop in the United States and is now being grown commercially in both the United States and Canada and has also been introduced to some countries in Europe and Australia.
The genus Zizania consisting above species isn’t relating to many current rice varieties of Oryza sativa or Oryza glaberrime planting on over the world now.


Wild Rice planting in USA is an aquatic cereal grain that grows "wild" in isolated lake and river bed areas located primarily within the continent of North America. It is also native to ecologically similar regions located on the continent of Asia. This evolutionarily ancient grain has been found in layers of the earth dating back some 12,000 years. In addition to its role as an important food staple for ancestral peoples, it has provided a unique habitat for fish and waterfowl for thousands of years…
At about the time early Europeans first settled around the Great Lakes area of North America, the Indigenous inhabitants already living there called the "wild" varieties of lake and river Wild Rice by many different names….names such as Manomin, Mahnomen and Manoomin. These various names have different meanings depending on one's cultural interpretation. Early French explorers called it Riz Sauvage (wild rice) or Folles Avoines (wild oates).
By whatever name, many of the Indigenous Peoples of North America consider the "wild" varieties of lake and river Wild Rice to be "A Gift from the Great Spirit….the Creator Himself", spiritually sacred and therefore distinct from the "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties.
Businessmen and botanists have thought about cultivating these plants for over 100 years (Steeves 1952). Early European explorers collected seed for planting in Europe but these failed probably because the seed was not handled properly to remain viable.
In 1828, Timothy Flint in Geography and History wondered why so little attention has been paid to wild rice.
In 1852, Joseph Bowron suggested wild rice be seeded for agricultural purposes.
Perhaps the first individuals to attempt to increase availability of wild rice for food were Native Americans (Steeves 1952). Often suitable lakes or rivers were seeded to wild rice by mixing seed into clay, rolling it into a ball and dropping the clay ball into the water. This resulted in some, but not significant, increase in natural stands.
Prior to that time, natural stands were the only source of the grain, and supplies were limited and varied greatly from year to year. With the advent and growth of commercial production, supplies of wild rice have increased tremendously over the last 40 years.
Natural stands continue to be harvested, but the proportion of total supplies derived from natural stands has steadily declined. In some areas, including the entire state of Minnesota, natural stands of wild rice, by law, must be harvested only by traditional canoe-and-flail method, whereas in some parts of Canada, mechanized harvest is permitted.
Growing wild rice as a field crop was first attempted near Merrifield, Minnesota in 1950-1952 (Oelke et al. 1984). James and Gerald Godward diked a 0.5 ha area, planted it with seed collected from a nearby lake, and flooded the field. The field was drained before harvest and the crop was harvested by hand. An additional 16 ha were planted by them in 1953 and harvested with a small pull-type combine. They had good crops the first few years, but leaf blight (Bipolaris oryzae B. de Haan) caused serious losses thereafter. However, they continued their pioneering efforts, and today one of their sons has nearly 1,000 acres in wild rice production.

Cultivating wild rice in the North America

Three species of wild rice are native to North America:
1-Northern wild rice (Zizania palustris) is an annual plant native to the Great Lakes  region of North America, the aquatic areas of the Boreal Forest regions of Alberta,  Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada and Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan in the US.
2-Wild rice (Z. aquatica), also an annual, grows in the Saint Lawrence River and on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States.
3-Texas wild rice (Z. texana) is a perennial plant only found in a small area along the San Marcos River in central Texas.
Texas wild rice is in danger of extinction due to loss of suitable habitat in its limited range and to pollution. The pollen of Texas wild rice can only travel about 30 inches away from a parent plant. If pollen does not land on a receptive female flower within that distance, no seeds are produced.
Today, the "wild" varieties and the "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties of Wild Rice remain an especially important crop for both lake and river producers and modern day farmers.
Cultivating Wild Rice In USA
Growing wild rice as a field crop was first suggested in 1852 by Joseph Bowron from Wisconsin, and in 1853 by Oliver H. Kelley of Minnesota.
Efforts to grow wild rice as a field crop did not begin until 1950. James and Gerald Godward grew wild rice in a one-acre diked, flooded field (paddy) near Merrifield, Minnesota. By 1958 they had 120 acres of paddies for growing wild rice. Additional growers started paddy production during the mid-1950s and early 1960s, and in 1960s, Uncle Ben, Inc. started contracting acreages. These initial efforts to commercialize wild rice production resulted in an organized effort to domesticate this crop using plant breeding.
In the early 1960's, "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties of Wild Rice were developed in the United States for the purpose of expanding markets internationally. Each year, U. S. lake & river producers harvest approximately 0.5 million pounds of the "wild" varieties of Wild Rice.
In 1963, Dr. Paul Yagyu and Mr. Erwin Brooks with the University of Minnesota, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics, discovered plants in a grower's field that retained their seed longer than the rest of the plants (Oelke et al. 1984). From these few plants, they and other breeders developed cultivars with more resistance to shattering than types growing in lakes and rivers.
Prior to 1965 most wild rice in the United States was produced in natural stands in lakes, rivers, and streams. Development of more shatter-resistant varieties was largely responsible for the rapid expansion of field production in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Production in Minnesota increased from 900 acres in 1968 to 18,000 acres in 1973. Most wild rice from natural stands was harvested by hand prior to this time using the traditional canoe-and-flail method.
Wild rice is currently produced commercially as a field crop in Minnesota and California, which account for most of the acreage (20,000 and 8,000 acres, respectively, in 1991).
Additional amounts are grown as a field crop in Idaho, Wisconsin and Oregon.
In the United States, wild rice is being produced commercially as a "domesticated" field crop in diked, flooded fields. Minnesota and California account for most of the hectarage (8,000 and 4,000 ha, respectively, in 1992) with additional amounts in Idaho, Wisconsin, and Oregon.
In 1999, U.S. farmers grew approximately 18 million pounds of the "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties.
Initially, the only seed available for planting in fields was of shattering types found in natural stands. These early fields were harvested several times over a 2-to 3-week grain-ripening period with specially designed, multiple-pass harvesters.
Wild rice in Minnesota is produced using cultivars that have a nonshattering tendency. All the following cultivars shatter somewhat and are susceptible to lodging and diseases. The most popular is 'K2'.
'K2' has a medium height, early to medium maturity, and medium to high yield. Developed by Kosbau Brothers in 1972.
'M3' has a medium height, medium to late maturity, high yield, and variable plant and panicle type. Developed by Manomin Development Co. in 1974.
'Netum' has a medium height, early maturity, and low to medium yield. Released by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1978.
'Voyager' has a short to medium height, early maturity, and medium to high yield. Should equal or exceed K2 in yield and mature a few days earlier. Released by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1983.
'Meter' has a shorter height, very early maturity, low to medium yield, and large seed size. Reduced foliage in the canopy compared to other varieties. Released by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1985.
In Minnesota, new fields are seeded with 45 kg/ha of seed (35% moisture) while in California a seeding rate of 112 kg/ha is common. A higher seeding rate is used in California because plants don't tiller as much as in Minnesota and also a higher plant population can be utilized since no leaf diseases are prevalent.
Wild rice is an annual, cross-pollinated species. In Minnesota, it matures in about 110 days, and requires about 2,600 growing degree days (40° F base). Plants are five to six ft tall and can have up to 50 tillers per plant. In cultivated fields that have four plants/sq ft, plants usually have three to six tillers. Stems are hollow except at nodes where leaves, tillers, roots, and flowers appear.
In California, cultivars developed by NorCal Seeds are the predominant ones grown.
Today, most of the wild rice being grown in fields are more shattering resistant. Yields of unprocessed grain from shattering types grown in fields typically ranged from 168 to 224 kg/ha, whereas, with shattering resistant cultivars, yields have been reported as high as 1,680 kg/ha in Minnesota and twice that amount in California.
Cultivating Wild Rice In Canada
In 1853, Oliver Kelly, founder of the National Grange, made the same proposal.
In Canada most wild rice is still produced in lakes and streams that are leased from the government.
Mechanical harvesting of wild rice on private lands began during 1917 in Canada. Harvesting with more efficient grain combines was possible with the discovery of shattering resistance.
In Canada, commercial production of wild rice takes place predominantly in lakes leased from the various provincial governments (Winchell and Dahl 1984). Lease provisions vary by province, but generally lease holders are permitted to seed the lakes and, in some cases, to control water levels, and are granted exclusive harvesting rights. Much of the wild rice acreage in these leased lakes is harvested with the use of airboats (Stevenson 1988).
In Canada, there has been much recent effort to increase total production from lakes by seeding lakes that were without wild rice. The lakes are then mechanically harvested by airboats equipped with collecting troughs. Researchers in Europe are currently investigating the possibility of wild rice production there.
Totals of these "wild" varieties harvested each year amount to roughly 4 million pounds.
Cultivating Wild Rice outside the North America
Commercial production of "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties has also been established and developed in Hungary and Australia.
The Global Wild Rice Production
Global Wild Rice production each year, which includes both the "wild" varieties and the "cultivated" or "farm grown" varieties, is now approximately 23 million finished pounds.
Ranging from cool dry temperate regions to warm moist temperate ones, wild rice (Zizania) is well adapted to the northern latitudes. Z. palustrus is grown in the US and Canada. It grows mostly in fresh water shallow lake areas, rivers and streams. Yields from natural stands vary from 90 to 300 kg/ha, but cultivated stands yield better. California harvests between 1350 and 1680 kg of wild rice per cultivated hectare, with a potential to harvest up to 2250 kg per hectare.

Who are eating wild rice grain? - A grain of choice.

Wild Rice has often been called "The Caviar Of All Grains". This sweet tasting nutty textured seed is the "Grain of Choice" for those who enjoy creating very special dishes. It is one of the most versatile and flavorful grains known to exist in the world today.
Wild rice is a nutritional grain that serves as a substitute for potatoes or rice, and is used in a wide variety of foods such as dressings, casseroles, soups, salads, and desserts. In recent years, wild rice has been used in breakfast cereals, and mixes for pancakes, muffins, and cookies. Blends of wild rice and long-grain regular rice (Oryza) that were introduced in the early 1960s increased the popularity of wild rice among consumers. Wild rice from natural stands is popular among health-food enthusiasts.
This grain has a high protein and carbohydrate content, and is very low in fat. The nutritional quality of wild rice appears to equal or surpass that of other cereals. Lysine and methionine comprise a higher percentage of the amino acids in the protein than in most other cereals.
The SLTM value (sum of lysine, threonine, and methionine contents) often serve as a measure of the nutritional quality of cereals, and is a little higher for wild rice than for oat groats, which is one of the better cereals for humans. Amino acid composition of processed and unprocessed wild rice is similar, which indicates little reduction in nutritional quality during processing. Wild rice contains less than 1% fat, of which linolenic and linoleic acids together comprise a larger proportion of the fatty acids (68%) than in wheat, rice, or oats. Although these two fatty acids are easily oxidized and make wild rice prone to develop rancid odors, the high levels of linolenic acid make the fat in wild rice highly nutritious.
Mineral content of wild rice, which is high in potassium and phosphorus, compares favorably with wheat (Table 1), oats, and corn. Processed wild rice contains no vitamin A, but serves as an excellent source of the B vitamins: thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin.
Table 1. Nutritional composition of wild rice, cultivated brown rice, and wheat.

Nutritional Component
Wild Rice
Cultivated Brown Rice
13.8 (12.8–14.8)1
Ash (%)
1.7 (1.4–1.9)
Fat (%)
0.6 (0.5–0.8)
Fiber (%)
1.2 (1.0–1.7)
Carbohydrate (%)
Ether Extract (%)
0.5 (0.3–1.0)
Phosphorus (%)
Potassium (%)
Magnesium (%)
Calcium (ppm)
Iron (ppm)
Manganese (ppm)
Zinc (ppm)
Copper (ppm)
Nitrogen (free % extract)
Source: Handbook of Cereal Science and Technology, Chp. 10, Oelke and Boedicker, 1991; and Wild Rice: Nutritional Review, R.A. Anderson, 1976.

Summary and future

Wild rice is firmly established as a new cultivated crop and should continue to expand in production and usage as yield and production efficiency are improved. Several key factors have led to its success to date:
(1) The grain was recognized by consumers as a gourmet food before domestication began, thus was relatively high priced and in demand.
(2) There were several champions of the crop that were willing to invest in production and marketing.
(3) Growers organized themselves early in the process to seek research monies, and
(4) The discovery of shattering resistance trait.
Continued expansion will depend on increasing the yield through breeding better cultivars which have better shattering resistance, tiller synchrony, disease resistance, grain/straw ratio, and lodging resistance.
In addition, reduced seed dormancy and ability to store germplasm longer are needed. Expansion also will be dependent on increasing the market demand for this gourmet product.

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