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The view from the Airbnb on Sedge Wood Farms near Cornell includes some of the wetlands owners Ashly and Stacy Steinke have restored and the grazing cattle.

New Holstein man passionate about making metal models

NEW HOLSTEIN — John Poch accumulated an impressive array of tractors over the years.

His collection features 30 full-size tractors, including 22 steel-wheel machines, encompassing seven brands.

But Poch is equally proud of the dozens of scale-model tractors and related agricultural equipment he meticulously handcrafted from metal over the years.

Nine years into retirement, the 71-year-old Poch recently completed his 100th scale-model piece and said he doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

“I have always liked agriculture, so for me it’s fun to putz around and make things like these out of metal,” said Poch, surrounded by tools in the workshop of his barn situated between New Holstein and St. Anna in rural Calumet County. “I can work with wood, but I prefer to work with metal. And it makes sense since the things I create are metal machinery in real life.”

Poch’s handiwork comes in a variety of scales, including 1/16 (five pieces), 1/8 (72 pieces), 1/4 (12 pieces), 1/2 (three pieces) and 3/4 (eight pieces). Each item features moving wheels and other applicable parts.

Perched on Poch’s workshop table on this day are his two most recent 1/8-scale creations, both circa late 1920s — an Oliver manure spreader and an International hay rake. Like all of Poch’s creations, they’re designed nearly entirely off photos in his dozens of books featuring tractors and other agricultural equipment.

“No blueprints at all,” he said. “The plans are mostly in my head as I’m making them. … I’m not a perfectionist. I’m just trying to make them look pretty good.”

Each 1/8-scale model takes roughly 40 hours to complete. Poch works on them year-round, with a bit more time spent in the workshop during winters. He acquires the metal from Schuette Mfg. and Steel Sales near Manitowoc; the business curves the wheels for him, and he makes nearly everything else.

“I’m not rushing to make any of them since they’re all just for personal enjoyment and not for selling,” he said.

Most of the completed models are arranged on shelves and display area in the main floor of the barn, above the area where the workshop is located and some tractors are housed. Poch hasn’t shown his creations off his property, but occasionally he provides tours to people who inquire after hearing about them by word of mouth.

Guests notice that about 20 of his earliest scale models are painted to resemble their original color schemes. These days, Poch leaves models with a raw metal exterior.

“I just started to think, ‘Wow, this is like the black-and-white pictures I work off of,’ and I liked that,” Poch said. “And if I ever want to go back and paint some, I can always do that too.”

Poch’s first scale-model creation, which also happens to be his favorite, was a 3/4 size McCormick-Deering W-30 he built in 1988. One year later he built its companion piece, a 3/4 size McCormick-Deering No. 8 plow.

Over time the larger-scale items filled up interior space on his property, so when Poch retired his focus shifted primarily to making 1/8 sizes.

“I like 1/8 more than 1/16,” he said. “The older you get, your fingers get stiffer and eyes get poorer. But the larger they are, the easier they are to work with.”

Among his favorite 1/8 models is a 110-horsepower Case steam engine.

“I’m not really into steam a whole lot, but I’ve seen them at shows and they’re huge,” he said. “I really like how that one turned out.”

Poch’s interest in agricultural machinery dates back to his upbringing on the family farm and more than 40 years spent working for a Land O’Lakes (formerly Lake to Lake) cheese plant in Kiel. He wasn’t a metalworker by trade, but it came with the territory.

“I never had any training in that, but when you grow up on a farm you always needed to fix something,” he said. “Even if we didn’t do something right, we were learning how to fix things. If I did it wrong, then I ended up doing it twice. So I learned.”

Poch was born and raised early on near Random Lake in rural Sheboygan County. At the age of 7, he moved with his family to a 60-acre farm near St. Anna that milked 12 cows and had a few pigs and chickens. The farm used Oliver tractors, but Poch remained open minded over the years to creating and collecting all brands of tractors and equipment.

Poch worked for Land O’Lakes/Lake to Lake from 1966 until his retirement in 2010; two of those years were spent serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He performed various duties at the cheese plant, filling 40-pound hoops with cheese in the early days and handling tasks in the loading area for the last 25 years.

Poch’s wife, Mary Lou, grew up on a family farm near St. Anna as well. Her family milked 100 cows and worked 400 acres.

The couple have lived at their current residence for the past 45 years. The property, formerly a small dairy farm, still features the original log house (since converted to a grainery) from 1861. Amish horse-and-buggies frequently traverse the nearby country roads.

Poch proudly noted he hasn’t had a television for the past 40 years, preferring instead to listen to the radio.

“I like listening to the radio while I’m making my scale models,” he said. “One thing we learn in life, you can’t have enough toys or tools.”

DBA focuses on budget issues at first Dairy Day at Capitol

MADISON — Farmers have done everything asked of them, from embracing technology to implementing good practices on the farm, and now it’s time for the state to reciprocate that, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers told members of the Dairy Business Association April 10 at the Wisconsin Capitol.

While members of the Dairy Business Association have been involved in numerous agricultural-focused events at the Wisconsin Capitol, they held the first ever Dairy Day of their own April 10, gathering in the hearing room of the Joint Finance Committee to discuss the association’s top priorities and hear from legislators, as well as the recently elected Evers.

Evers asked members to keep in mind several items detailed in his biennium budget that could impact Wisconsin’s dairy industry, including the issuance of driver’s cards to non-citizens, which Evers also called a workforce issue; additional funding for the UW System, specifically an increase in research dollars; improvements to broadband in rural areas; clean water initiatives; and a proposed solution to the state’s transportation woes.

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary-Designee Brad Pfaff echoed some of Evers’ comments, asking DBA members to assist him in supporting dairy marketing initiatives, specifically international marketing initiatives, but also continued funding for Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin and the Farm to School grant program.

Pfaff also stands behind Evers’ water initiatives, including increased funding for producer-led watershed groups, additional funding for county conservation staffing and nonpoint source pollution cost-sharing programs, and bonding authority for implementation of land and water resource management plans with cost-sharing grants to landowners.

John Holevoet, DBA’s director of government affairs, provided an overview of the association’s own priorities, many which overlapped items supported by Evers and Pfaff.

The DBA supports an investment in dairy research through the establishment of a UW Dairy Innovation Hub, which would include researchers stationed at UW-Madison, UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls. The dairy hub would take research to the next level, Holevoet said, studying the areas of land and water stewardship, human health and nutrition, animal health and welfare, and how to grow farm businesses and communities in rural areas.

“This proposal can check both boxes,” Holevoet said, referring to the “dairy crisis” and water-quality interests of the new administration.

Funding for the hub currently is not included in the UW budget, but the DBA is asking the Joint Finance Committee to include $7.9 million per year to fund it in the budget they plan to present to the governor.

DBA also supports a long-term transportation funding solution, recognizing that the state cannot continue to borrow to pay for its roads. And while the association doesn’t know what the solution will look like, it will have to include some new revenue sources and take into consideration the importance of rural roads and bridges throughout the state.

“This can be an area where we can really make an impact,” said Shawn Pfaff, a DBA contract lobbyist. “The issue is top of mind and I think they want to hear from business people and farm country.”

Assemblyman Don Vruwink, D-Milton, recommended hitting the senators hard with this issue, as he believes the Assembly has the bipartisan appetite to find a solution, while the hang-up appears to be in the Senate, specifically with legislators in metro areas of the state.

While controversial, DBA also supports giving immigrant workers the ability to drive legally, provided they are properly trained and insured. Evers said he thinks of it as a workforce issue, but it can also be considered a public safety issue, Holevoet said.

“This isn’t about immigration or voting privileges,” he said, explaining that the driver’s card would be used for driving purposes only.

Evers has included a provision to allow driver’s cards for non-citizens in his budget, but the DBA believes it is unlikely it will remain in the budget that will be passed by the Legislature. The association appreciates his support on this issue and will continue to work on it outside of the budget process.

Other budget priorities supported by DBA include additional support for the DATCP’s Wisconsin Initiative for Dairy Exports, continued funding for farmer-led watershed initiatives and dairy processor grants, adequate funding for the nonpoint program, and the current version of the Manufacturing and Ag Tax Credit, which is proposed to be capped in Evers’ budget.

DBA also opposes an increase in fees paid by concentrated animal feeding operations during the permitting process; they also oppose the current CAFO program, stating that it “really needs a complete overhaul” instead of just increasing funding and adding more staff members.

As for non-budget related priorities, DBA supports nutrient-trading legislation to reduce the amount of phosphorus and other nutrients that reach surface and groundwater. This legislation is a win-win-win for agriculture, industry and the environment, Holevoet said.

Before meeting with their legislators that afternoon, DBA members also heard from a handful of legislators who served on panels during the event. Providing comments and answering questions were Senate Assistant Majority Leader Daniel Feyen, R-Fond du Lac; Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington; Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh; Assembly Ag Committee Chairman Gary Tauchen, R-Bonduel; Assembly Ag Committee Ranking Minority Member Dave Considine, D-Baraboo; Senate Ag Committee Vice-Chairman Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon; and Senate Ag Committee Ranking Minority Member Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire.

Foresters, family woodland owners urged to work together

SIREN — More than half of the 816 million acres of forestland in the U.S. is privately held. Of that, 61 percent is owned by family forest landowners, making them the largest forestland ownership group in the U.S.

“That often surprises people, particularly the general public,” Stephanie Snyder of the U.S. Forest Service in St. Paul, Minn., told those attending the St. Croix Forestry Conference late last month in Siren. “There is a perception that the federal government is the largest ownership group.”

It stands to reason, then, that the decisions family forest owners make about stewardship, use and maintenance of their woods has far-reaching implications.

Snyder urges foresters to strive to work more closely with family forest owners, especially as about 15 percent of ownerships, or 73,000 nationwide, are likely to change hands in the next five years. Family forest owners, on average, are in their 60s.

“Given their dominance of ownership on the landscape, they’re a really important group to understand,” Snyder said. “We can’t accomplish our landscape goals if we can’t encourage family forest owners to participate.”

Family forest owners own 263 million acres, or 35 percent, of all forested land in the U.S. Snyder said their reasons for owning wooded land vary, including hunting, as a retreat or as part of a family legacy. Some people inherited their land or bought it as a second home site.

But “regardless of why family forest owners own their land ... they tend to be very passionate about their land and about being a family forest owner,” she said, adding that many people take great pride in their woods.

These areas also are important to society as a whole, she said, because of general forest-based benefits such as water purification, so it’s critical that those who work with family forest owners understand their values, goals and practices.

Through surveys, the Family Forest Research Center compiles data on this critical segment of forest ownership to help others better understand family forest owners, Snyder said. The most recent survey took place a few years ago.

Snyder said forestland ownership varies throughout the U.S. In the West, much of the land is federally owned, while in the eastern U.S., there’s more corporate ownership. In the Upper Midwest, ownership is a mix, but family owners are very prevalent, especially in Wisconsin.

“That intermix makes for challenging and interesting efforts to try to manage forestlands,” she said.

Snyder said the U.S. Forest Service has emphasized an “all lands” approach for forest management, and, because of their dominance on the landscape, it’s key that family forestland owners are on board.

According to the most recent national woodland owner survey, Wisconsin has more than 9 million forested acres with 183,000 ownerships and a mean size of 48 acres. More than 70 percent of family forest owners in the Great Lakes states own 30 percent of the total forest area, in holding sizes ranging from 10 to 49 acres.

“There are a lot of ownerships with small- to medium-size holdings,” Snyder said, adding that as land is left to heirs, more multi-ownership situations are created.

Habitat a priority

Almost 90 percent of family forest owners surveyed listed a desire to preserve wildlife habitat as their top reason for owning wooded land, followed by the beauty/scenery, privacy and a desire to help protect nature.

Interestingly, while most owners rank wildlife habitat high, not many of them are doing any habitat improvement work on their property, Snyder said, so there’s a bit of a disconnect between what people value and what they are doing.

“Some may not know what to do or think there’s not much they have to do. It always stands out to me as a bit of a mismatch,” she said.

The harvest of timber products ranked relatively low, important to only 18 percent of owners in the Lakes states.

“Typically, they’re not interested in commercial harvesting,” Snyder said. “Part of that is a capacity issue.”

Recreation such as hunting, bird-watching, riding all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiling was the most commonly reported activity on family-owned forestland. Cutting trees for personal use such as firewood came in second.

Snyder said the rates of participation in forestry programs are low among family forest owners, with only 17 percent indicating that they sought professional advice about their wooded land in the past five years. Most don’t have any personal contact with professional foresters, she said.

Fifteen percent said they have a forest management plan in place, she said, adding that this is “the golden ticket” to getting landowners engaged in the future of their woods, but “we have a long way to go.”

Snyder said only 9 percent participate in their state forest property tax program, and about 7 percent use cost-sharing programs. These low rates could be due to limited awareness or a dislike of the requirements, but they also could be the result of a mistrust of government and desire to be autonomous.

Those surveyed indicated that they plan to engage in two main activities on their forested land — cutting trees for personal use and projects to improve wildlife habitat. More than 80 percent of those who had treated for invasive plants like garlic mustard in the past planned to do so again. Insects such as gypsy moths are another issue, she said, and cross-boundary collaboration should be promoted as a way to control both invasive plants and pests.

Snyder said property taxes are the No. 1 worry of those surveyed, with more than 80 percent expressing concern. However, only 9 percent participate in their state’s forest property tax program.

Other top concerns are keeping the land intact and parcelization, which often is a forerunner for development, along with trespassing and vandalism — not surprising considering that many family forest owners are absentee landowners, she said.

Respondents said their biggest needs in the future include more favorable forest property taxes; more than 60 percent indicated that this would be beneficial.

“This may suggest people are looking for other ways to alleviate their tax burden than participating in current forest property tax programs,” Snyder said.

They also would like to see more advice on managed forest management and land transfer. Snyder said the challenge is turning that information into action, as, in general, there’s not a lot of active management taking place on family forestland.

As family forest owners age, transition of ownership becomes a concern, and there’s a growing need for more education about succession and estate planning. Many have a strong desire to maintain their forestland, according to Snyder. While half of those surveyed said they plan to pass their woods down to their children, many don’t know what will happen to it.

Regardless, she said, “there will be a new segment of woodland owners in the coming decade.”

The St. Croix River Association’s “My St. Croix Woods” program provides woodland owners throughout the watershed with resources, opportunities and professional connections to make better informed decisions about their land. For more information, visit

Submitted photo  

Karen Nielsen of Madison and Jill Stahl Tyler of Brattleboro, Vt., have known each other for many years, and continue to interact through their businesses Global Dairy Outreach and The Global Cow. Both of their businesses aim to help people connect with dairy farming work experiences across the globe.