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Dairy damage control

Corby Werth considers being a spokesman for the Michigan Dairy News Bureau an honor. So when a reporter called from the Northern Express in the Traverse City area, he was ready to set the record straight.

The reporter had “a definite direction she wanted to go in regards to confined animal feeding operations,” Werth says. “She really didn’t have a clue about the dairy business, but yet wanted to portray CAFOs in a bad light — trying to pit small farm operations against larger ones.”

I stressed that in the dairy industry, everyone is a dairy farmer regardless of size, and we all want to do what is best for our animals and the environment.”

Key Points

Corby Werth and Jerry Neyer help set reporter straight on CAFO facts.

Michigan Dairy News Bureau spokespeople spread a positive message about dairy.

To help educate the public, Werth hosts tours on his farm for area students.


Werth, who is on the board of directors for United Dairy Industry of Michigan, is a fourth-generation farmer in partnership with his dad and brother. The farm evolved from 30 cows in tiestalls and controlled grazing to 180 milking cows in a freestall with a parlor. Since the Werths live in Alpena, considered a “hot zone” for bovine tuberculosis, they no longer graze animals.

“That makes us a small CAFO,” Werth says. “I invited and urged [the reporter] to come to the farm, but she declined.”

The reporter also spoke with Jerry Neyer in Mount Pleasant, who is an MDNB spokesman, too. He runs two dairy sites with brother Bryan, father Dave and uncle Bill. They milk 1,100 cows and raise replacement heifers for a total of 2,500 head.

Correcting misinformation

“Between the two of them, they were able to correct a lot of misinformation before it went to press,” says Staci Garcia, industry and public communications director with UDIM.

“Corby actually got to read the article before press, which is pretty unheard of,” she says. The reporter had originally lifted information posted on the Web by activist groups. “In the end, she printed a much more balanced article.”

Werth is also proactive in telling his dairy story throughout his small town of Alpena. “This is a very rural area, but there are many who have no idea about the workings of a dairy farm,” he says.

Werth hosts tours on his farm two or three times a year for schools, including tours for disabled students. He has also served on a panel, allowing Michigan State University vet students to ask questions. “We provided information about what goes on at a large-animal farm; it isn’t always what you read in the paper,” he says.

Telling dairy’s story, Werth says, is important. “Sitting back and doing nothing is the easiest thing to do, but ultimately it will hurt our industry.”

Surveys monitor consumers’ views

When United Dairy Industry of Michigan created the Michigan Dairy News Bureau about three years ago, it wanted to learn more about consumer perceptions.

Two 300 random-digit dial surveys were conducted in 2009 and 2010, each with an oversampling of 100 surveys targeted to ZIP codes near dairy farms.

Between 2009 and 2010, consumer perceptions and sentiments did not change. Michigan dairy farmers are well-regarded by state consumers, even more so if they live closer to a dairy farm. Of the general population, 80.2% of respondents and 83.3% of those in the oversampling were “mostly positive.”

In both years, the survey revealed largely favorable opinions of Michigan dairy farmers in regard to animal care, the environment, and production of safe and wholesome products.

Consumers said they were most interested in the care of cows and identified the most effective spokespeople for the industry as veterinary faculty at Michigan State University, community veterinarians, dairy farmers and the state veterinarian.

Michigan dairy farmers received the highest ratings for producing and ensuring safe, wholesome milk.

In both years, when respondents were asked for feedback, most offered positive comments, such as “Keep up the good work,” and also acknowledged the industry’s recent struggles by saying, “We wish them the best.”


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going strong:
The Werth farm is in its fourth generation.

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SPOKES family: The Werth family is committed to educating the public about dairies. Corby Werth (second from right) walks with his family: (from left) father Fred, wife Dorene, children Carson and Annalee, and brother Cody.

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This article published in the February, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.