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Two combines harvest wild rice at night in Northern Minnesota
Farmers and ranchers
C magazine

Wild rice harvest

The Godward family uses customized combines to harvest cultivated wild rice in northern Minnesota.
Adam Hester
Mar 9, 2023

As summer turns to fall in northern Minnesota, the buzz of wakeboarding boats quiets and the fried food aroma from lakeside restaurants fades.

Migrating waterfowl, heading south for the winter, pay attention as the grand bodies of blue water the state is famous for narrow into a neat dike system feeding majestic green fields. The fields offer a resting place for feathered travelers and produce the official state grain: wild rice.

The grid system covers about 5,000 acres near Aitkin, Minn., and was designed by Nick Godward’s great-grandfather. The younger Godward now runs the cultivated wild rice and soybean operation with his brother, Brandon, and father, Tom.

Over the past 60-plus years, Tom has added his chapters to this success story. Many of his close friends in this tight-knit community have jokingly called him a “mud farmer.” Tom quickly responds with, “I’m proud of what I do, although I find I need to be smarter about it every year.”

With the complexities of growing wild rice, it helps to be not just smarter but to have a supportive community. The Godwards work with agronomist Nick Smeby to evaluate the diverse peat, sand and mineral soils they manage, and plan multiple rounds of fertilizer applied throughout the summer.

If Mother Nature allows, the rice fields are flooded each fall after inputs are applied. The sheets of water help with insect and pest control over the winter. Seed can be put down the next spring with frost still on the ground.

Constant field scouting is needed as the rice plants emerge and then the fields are drained to allow the growing plants to flourish.

“Nearly all the fertilizer is top-dressed using variable-rate equipment to accommodate changes from year to year,” says Smeby.

The Godwards rely on the CHS location based in Long Prairie, Minn., for precision ag support, including the YieldPoint® program, and to contract diesel fuel purchases to help manage price.

With Minnesota wild rice production at 5 million to 10 million pounds per year, it is a small player in the global grain game, but packs a mighty punch as a nutritious, delicious option for consumers looking for healthful choices. With the continued hard work and pride emanating from the Godward family and their bountiful operation in Minnesota’s North Country, the state’s cultivated wild rice footprint looks to be in good hands.

Wild rice harvest

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