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Price stinks, wild rice sinks
Saskatchewan wild rice producers grew another bumper crop in 2003, a sizable portion of which ended up on the bottom of the lakes where it was grown.
"Some people never even bothered harvesting at all or they did fewer picks," said Gerry Ivanochko, a northern agriculture specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.
While it was a good year for production, it was a dreadful one for prices. Toward the end of the growing season, the going rate for wild rice dipped as low as 40 cents per pound, less than half what producers received for last year's crop.
A combination of high carryover stocks and slumping demand delivered a one-two punch to prices.
Saskatchewan farmers harvested a record 4.4 million lb. of green rice in 2002, almost double the 10-year average of 2.3 million lb. "That's really what caused problems in the marketing, because there was a large carryover from last year," Ivanochko said. Also causing problems is an economic downturn in the United States and Europe, Canada's two biggest wild rice customers. The commodity is a luxury item and consumers tend to turn to cheaper substitutes such as white rice when money is tight.
Marketers in northern Saskatchewan, where 70 percent of the Canadian crop is grown, are sitting on large inventories of processed product left over from 2002.
Ivanochko estimated that three million lb. of rice were harvested, but plenty of good quality crops were left untouched because of the 40 cent price.
The economics became especially questionable for producers who farm "fly-in lakes" because they couldn't justify the high harvesting costs. Little capital cost is invested at the early stages of a wild rice crop; all the expenses come late in the game.
Unlike grain farmers, wild rice growers don't have the luxury of waiting for better prices. The crop cannot be stored for long because it has a high moisture content. As a result, all deals are done during the growing season.
"The grower either has a sale or they don't. They can't sit on it," Ivanochko said. Another difference is that while the majority of Saskatchewan's wild rice growers are certified organic, they don't get the kind of price premiums other organic farmers enjoy.
Ivanochko blamed that on misinformed consumers, who think the term wild rice implies it is all grown in natural settings.
In reality, 90 percent of the North American crop is grown with the aid of chemicals and fertilizers on commercial paddies in places such as California and Minnesota.
Ivanochko hoped organic consumers will become more savvy now that the U.S. has implemented its National Organic Program.
That could create price premiums for Canadian wild rice, which would help out producers in a year like this when there is a glut of product.
MGR Archive 18.10.2003
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Russia Rapan $ 700
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