Wild Rice Processing

Wild rice is one of the most abundant wild food sources in our area. But we don’t have any local wild rice processors, forcing harvesters to bring their rice long distances in order to have their rice processed. This project was started to assess the possibility of building a local wild rice processor in or near Finland, MN

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Project Description: to research and write a business plan/feasibility study for local wild rice processing

Project Updates:
9/30/2019 – Marc Smith:
After researching wild rice processing facilities in the Northland that process in smaller batches (500 # or less), I found a man named Steven Merhar near Grand Rapids who runs a small scale processing plant on his property. He was kind enough to give me a tour and answer some questions.

Steven has been a wild ricer all his life and learned the art of processing wild rice from his father, Jim. Jim still processes wild rice, upwards of 50,000 pounds, primarily for the reservation. Steven processes far less rice. His record season was 18,000 pounds and averages around 8000 pounds per season.

With the exception of the rice grader that separates the grains into different sizes, most of Steven’s equipment is home made. He recently paid $7,500 for that grader. He parches with a wood fire using a metal drum he fabricated that holds up to 400 pounds of green rice. The rice is parched to around 245 degrees reducing the moisture of the rice down to 7 -10 % . The second step is the thresher or friction huller. This machine rubs the hull off the grain with padded paddles. I was hoping to see what Steven used for paddles but he said that was his secret. He was excited to show me the next piece of equipment in the processing procedure, his fanning mill. He had just made this machine a few months ago after dealing with many years of the dried shafts blowing back into his pole barn. His invention lifts the rice to a blower that shoots the separated hulls through a PVC tube to a collection box a good 50 feet from his pole barn. The heavier rice falls to the bottom in a collection vat. Finally the rice is moved to the grading machine that separates it into grades based on size.

The whole process takes 6 to 7 hours and Steven has to pay close attention especially during the parching process. He told me earlier this season the motor went out on the parcher tumbler and he had to quickly remove all the rice before it burned.

It was great to have the opportunity to tour a smaller wild rice processing facility with an eye out for what we could do in our area.

8/16/2019- Marc Smith:
I have just begun the process to research the number of wild ricers in the Arrowhead region and to access the need for a wild rice processing facility in our area.  I connected with Melissa Thompson, Wildlife Lake Specialist/Shallow Lakes Program, and she has helped me with connections with the DNR, 1854 Authority and the U of M.  Melissa also happens to be a wild ricer. I started to look into possible grant sources for the equipment.  Possible options include Minnesota Sea Grant and Minnesota Department of Agriculture.