Amy Mayer

Reporter

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also  previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth.  She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times,  Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Since the spring of 2008, Amy has served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio.

Amy has a bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from Wellesley College and a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Amy’s favorite public radio program is The World.

Ways To Connect

Amy Mayer/IPR

Each year, the statewide nonprofit organization Iowa Rivers Revival honors a community for its commitment to the river that runs through it. This year the group named Decorah as its River Town of the Year. 

On a cool spring day, fish splash at the trout hatchery in Decorah as a few hearty men in waders angle nearby. Alongside the Upper Iowa River is a multi-use, four season trail. The recreation options are among the reasons Iowa Rivers Revival selected Decorah and the Oneota Valley for this year's award. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

The smell of baking dinner rolls fills the kitchen at Decorah High School in northeast Iowa. As two kitchen workers mix a fresh broccoli salad, another, Chad Elliott, ladles tomato soup from a large metal pot on the stove into white plastic buckets for delivery to the town’s elementary schools.

Elliott says most of the food served in the district is made from scratch and many ingredients come from local farms and dairies.

Amy Mayer/IPR

As Food Corps service member Ashley Turk navigates her way through a brand-new greenhouse in the courtyard at Waukon High School in the northeast corner of Iowa, she points to a robust supply of red and green lettuce leaves growing neatly in rows.

“It’s huge,” she says. “We cut it off and it just keeps growing.”

The greenhouse lettuce is among the offerings in the school’s salad bar. And students will soon be growing carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables, Turks says.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced that hog farmers are now required to report outbreaks of certain viral diseases that have spread across the country during the past year.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Raucous behavior in the Campustown neighborhood just off the Iowa State University campus in Ames early Wednesday left one student hospitalized. And it led to the cancelation of an annual spring tradition.

Ames police estimate about 1000 people congregated in the streets, where sign posts were toppled and cars were flipped. ISU President Steven Leath expressed disappointment and sadness at an afternoon press conference, which many students also attended. Leath said it’s early in the week of the annual VEISHEA celebration and he had to take decisive action to protect safety.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Ethanol advocates made the case for preserving the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) on Tuesday in front of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Without the RFS, advocates say, the ethanol industry will be quashed – and corn farmers and rural communities will pay the price. But many agricultural economists argue that lowering the ethanol mandate won’t be a huge blow to the rural economy.

Amy Mayer/IPR

After a long battle with corn rootworm, Midwest farmers thought they’d found relief in genetically modified seeds with engineered-in toxins to beat back the best. But recent research confirms what farmers have been noticing for several years: the western corn rootworm has been evolving to outwit the technology.

When Aaron Gassmann, a bug researcher at Iowa State University, started answering calls to come look at some cornfields, he went out and quickly had a hunch. Now, his research proves his fear.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U. S. Department of Agriculture is predicting fewer acres will be planted in corn this year, compared to last year, while soybean acreage will be up.

In its Prospective Plantings report, the federal agency uses survey data collected from farmers to estimate how much of each grain will be planted. While the corn estimate of 91.7 million acres would mark the lowest acreage since 2010, it would still rank as the fifth largest planting of that grain in the United States since 1944.

Peter Gray/Harvest Public Meeting

A virus that has devastated piglets for nearly a year is now responsible for lower pork supplies and higher prices.

Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill. knows first hand what happens when porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus infects a hog barn. He walked through one in late January pointing out the differences among litters.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a frigid winter day , Chad Hart tries to warm his economics students at Iowa State University to the idea of managing some of the risk of farming using the commodity markets. Because as he told them on the first day of class, farmers don’t make money planting or harvesting crops; they make money selling them. And Hart knows that marketing—managing those sales for the best profit—can be intimidating.

Courtesy Stephen Carmody/Michigan Radio

  President Barack Obama signed the new farm bill into law Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, ending years of negotiations and wrangling.

With farm equipment, hay bales and crates of apples setting the stage, the president told the crowd that this farm bill –officially called the Agriculture Act of 2014 – will save taxpayer dollars while also offering support to farmers and ranchers. And he says that helps the whole country.

Courtesy National Archives

When President Obama signs the long-overdue Agriculture Act of 2014 – the new farm bill – into law Friday, both farmers and food stamps advocates will be sighing in relief. This farm bill process was fraught with ups and downs and the loose coalition tying nutrition and farm programs seemed barely able to survive.

The way certain corn seeds get planted is having an unintended negative affect on honeybees in the Corn Belt. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

It’s getting so close now… Wednesday morning the U.S. House passed the Agriculture Act of 2014, the new farm bill. The Senate is expected to take it up soon.

Pork producers across the country are grappling with a virus that's going after piglets. Livestock economists estimate the porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED, virus has already killed about 1 million baby pigs in the U.S. since it was first found in Iowa last spring.

Canada reported its first case Thursday, and the disease shows no sign of abating. That has veterinarians worried.

Amy Mayer/IPR

In the Midwest, crop agriculture often gets divided between the major commodities of corn, soybeans and wheat and everything else. Switching to an un-tested crop is risky for farmers, but sometimes agronomics and market forces meet in a sweet spot and they can reap the benefits of innovation.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Pork producers across the country are continuing to grapple with a virus that’s killing their piglets. Experts estimate Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus has already killed about 1 million baby pigs and the disease shows no sign of abating.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Something farmers often call “trash” could be a new cash crop in 2014. Two cellulosic ethanol plants are expected to begin operations in the coming year, one near Nevada and the other in Emmetsburg. They will create ethanol from the leaves, stalks and cobs of the corn plant, rather than the grain. And that means farmers will be able to sell the residue left on the field after harvest to the energy producers. Iowa State University agronomy professor Rick Cruse says cellulosic production could eventually expand to accept other raw materials.

2013 has been a busy year for Iowa Public Radio's news team. Today on River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with reporters and correspondents about some of the most meaningful and challenging stories they covered. It's a "reporter's notebook" edition of the show.

Here is a list of the full features heard on today's show:

January 10 - Undocumented Immigrants at University

USDAGov/Flickr

A bipartisan group of senators is pressuring the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize changes to the way poultry is inspected.

The new system is controversial. Advocates say it would save taxpayer money by shifting certain inspection duties from federal employees to company workers and allowing for faster processing. Some inspectors and consumer groups, though, oppose the changes and say it could compromise food safety.

If it seems like Congress just can’t get the farm bill done, well… that’s because it can’t. All year long, Washington lawmakers have been saying they want to pass a full five-year farm bill. But even though leaders of the House-Senate conference committee say they are close, they have acknowledged it just won’t get done this year. They’re pushing it off until January.

Amy Mayer/IPR

In a lab on the Iowa State University campus in Ames, Chiliang Chen loads tiny vials containing soil samples into a machine called a Powerlyzer. It will smash soil samples to homogenize the tissue and tease out the DNA of the microorganisms within. Chen works with Gwyn Beattie, the Robert Earle Buchanan Distinguished Professor of Bacteriology at Iowa State. Beattie and about two dozen other scientists recently published a report called How Microbes Can Help Feed the World.

USDA

Iowa’s school districts spent six percent of their food budgets buying from local farms in the 2011-2012 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Census. That means efforts to fill cafeteria trays with local foods have plenty of room to grow.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Hot-button food issues of the day, such as the use of genetically modified organisms or the treatment of livestock, tend to pit large industries against smaller activist groups. Often, both sides will claim the science supports what they are saying. That can leave consumers in a bit of a bind.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The farm bill expired at midnight on Monday, leaving farmers and ranchers across the country guessing at what federal farm policy will look like when they next put their crops in the ground.

Of course, they’re used to uncertainty, as this is the second straight year Congress has let the farm bill expire. Last year, farmers were set adrift for three months before lawmakers passed a nine-month extension of older policy in January.

Sarah McCammon

The Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus has the potential to kill entire litters of piglets. It has been confirmed in 17 states including Iowa since its first appearance last spring. Now, hog producers and veterinarians have a new tool to help fight it, thanks to a more sensitive test developed at Iowa State University.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Howard Hill pulls his red Chevy pick-up truck up to a barn near Union, Iowa, that houses 1,000 of his hogs. In the truck’s bed is a 55-pound bag of Rumensin 90, a common antibacterial ingredient in cattle feed that helps reduce bloating. Pigs don’t eat it. Hill brought it here to dump into the manure pit under the hogs.

Hill is among the many Midwestern pork producers who use deep pits under their barns to accumulate manure throughout the year. In the fall, after fields are harvested, the nutrient-rich slurry gets pumped out of the pits and injected into the cropland.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Farmers may now have to wait until Congress makes its decisions about Syria before the farm bill gets any more attention.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said a farm bill conference committee could meet without disrupting the debate on Syria, but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Syria’s going to put the farm bill on the back burner,” Grassley said. “I don’t think that’s justified, but that’s what we’ve been told. And how far—on how many back burners back—I don’t know.”

courtesy of Zynga

The farm bill is, once again, entering a critical stretch. As was the case last year, the current law expires at the end of September. There’s no election to dissuade elected officials from tackling the major piece of agriculture and nutrition policy—but Congress does have a pretty full plate, with the crisis in Syria, immigration reform and a measure to continue funding federal government programs all set to come to a head.

Amy Mayer/IPR

A new disease turned up in the $20 billion United States hog industry in May, and the National Pork Board’s response illustrates the role it plays in swine research. Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) previously had been found mainly in Asia. It threatened to kill whole litters of piglets.

The Des Moines-based Pork Board sprang into action last spring, making $450,000 immediately available for research on the disease. The Pork Board gets its money from the mandatory pork check-off program, which raised $83 million last year.

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