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Sask. Polytech team develops efficient wild rice harvester boat design

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Saskatchewan’s wild rice industry is getting a boost — a new boat design that promises to make harvesting more efficient.

The new boats represent a positive advancement for Saskatchewan’s wild rice industry, according to Napoleon Gardner, an NWC Wild Rice Company advisor.

“This will maximize harvest and the return to the pockets of families up north,” he said.

Last year, a team at Sask. Polytech received $400,000 from Prairiescan Community Economic Development and Diversification to develop the wild rice harvesting boat.

“The equipment that they’ve had over the years is starting to deteriorate. They can’t find parts, so this is timely in a sense of having a new machine they will be able to take advantage of,” Gardner says.

The goal of the project is to design and build a new modular boat with a more economical and easily repairable propulsion system.

Engineers at Sask. Polytech got involved in the project with partners from the NWC Wild Rice Company and Gabriel Dumont Institute to help this agriculture sector update their boats, often cobbled together with impractical parts like “1980 snowmobile engine and parts from the ultralight aircraft industry,” said Chris Thompson with the Ag Equipment Tech program.

“Those parts are hard to come by and are expensive, so we needed to develop something that’s sustainable for the future.”

(Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

The new boats will manoeuvre through the tall grass where wild rice grows in northern lakes. Upkeep on the boats is much easier for isolated communities.

“We can repair components when we need to with the partners up north when they’re harvesting. The engines themselves are a four stroke engine, electronic fuel injection engine, much like would be in your car, but designed for heavy operation,” said Thompson.

The impact of these new boats will empower community members to maintain their rice harvester fleets themselves.

Giving Saskatchewan’s wild rice industry this boost could essentially mean more rice being produced and exported by the seven Indigenous communities involved in production. Like most aspects of the agriculture industry, success will ultimately be left in the hands of mother nature to decide.

“It depends what happens with the land, the climate, the temperature, the water levels, so that has some bearing,” Gardner said. 

(Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

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