Merlin and Georgiann Becker of Manawa have been named the 2013 Wisconsin Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year.
The award was presented by the American Tree Farm System at the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association’s annual meeting held in Wisconsin Rapids on Sept. 14.
Merlin and Georgie were nominated for the award by Ben Baumgart, forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“Being selected Waupaca County, regional and state tree farmer is quite an honor for both of us,” Merlin said.
The Beckers have owned their 97-acre tree farm near Weyauwega for the past 34 years and have worked with the DNR to develop a forest management plan. They are grateful to the three DNR foresters – Hugh Hayes, Buzz Vahradian and Ben Baumgart – who provided them with expert advice through the years.
The acreage, known as the Becker’s Woodland, consists of pine and other conifer, northern hardwoods, along with a river bottom and grasslands. Merlin is often heard saying that the Becker’s Woodland is his “piece of the rock.”
A family tradition
The Beckers and their children, Scott and Brenda, are the third and fourth generation owners of the Becker Woodlands.
“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” Merlin said.
Merlin’s grandfather, Gust Kapitzke, purchased the land Dec. 28, 1886, and his family made their living as farmers.
Ed and Esther Becker, Merlin’s parents, took over the farming operation as the next generation. Back in the 1960s, Hugh Hayes from the Wisconsin Conservation Department realized that the old growth timber on the land had trees dating back over 150 years.
Hayes worked with Ed Becker to establish a harvest to remove some of the large, over-mature wolf trees. This created openings in the forest to start converting the single-age large diameter stand into an uneven-age stand.
Merlin and his brother Elmer purchased the woodland in 1967 from their parents. Merlin bought out his brother’s half of the property in 1979 and continued the forestry management plans that were in place.
All of the stewardship land practices completed on Becker Woodlands started early with the forester sharing his knowledge to promote sustainable forest management. Since then, the Becker Woodland had nine different selection harvests and 11 different intermediate trimmings.
After many decades of farming, the land was depleted of nutrients. With the advice from the forester, Merlin and many family members decided to plant trees in these areas.
In 1968 they planted 12,000 trees as the initial planting. Merlin and crew have planted red pine, white spruce, red and white oak, cedar and shrubs totaling 34,530 trees and expanding the Becker Woodlands to its current 97 acres.
Hunting on the Becker Woodland has been a family tradition since 1967.
“When you manage your woodland for sustainable forestry, the wildlife plan follows,” Merlin said.
Over the years, the “4-B’s” hunting group (Beckers Baldwin Mills Buck Busters) has kept detailed records. To dated, they have harvested 45,032 pounds of venison and 1,352 pounds of turkey.
Merlin calls pruning, cutting and trimming of trees “The Labor of Love” and notes this is done when the trees are dormant. Cutting in the hardwoods is also conducted during the dormant season as a preventative measure to avoid oak wilt disease.
All of the small timber sales of less than 20-40 cords of wood were cut by Merlin and his crew, which ended up being 2,742 hours of “sweat equity.” Total cords they cut, skidded and piled was 434, with another 429 cords harvested by machine.
The Becker Woodlands is designated as the Waupaca County Demonstration Forest through the Golden Sands Resource Conservation and Development Program. The woodland is located at N3896 Military Road, Weyauwega.