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.

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Year in Review
2:24 pm
Mon December 30, 2013

Top IPR Reporter Picks of 2013

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

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
12:58 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

Poultry inspection rules in focus on Capitol Hill

USDA Agricultural Commodity Compliance Specialist Melissa Thompson and Federal-State Supervisor Gary Tharp inspect a package of poultry at a Tyson Foods poultry processing plant in Springdale, Ark., in 2010.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Another farm bill deadline passes without a deal

Iowa State University political scientist David Peterson says the farm bill is a victim of polarization and gridlock in Washington.

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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
7:59 am
Mon November 18, 2013

Scientists seek more microbial might on the farm

Mark Howieson says this greenhouse at BASF in Ames, Iowa is one step in the development pipeline for biologically-based products to enhance farming.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
12:57 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Schools buying local produce, but room to expand

The USDA recently surveyed school districts nationwide to measure how much of their food dollars go toward buying local or regional products.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon October 28, 2013

Science not likely to resolve dicey food issues

Nick Livermore works a batch of non-GMO soybeans on Aaron Lehman's farm in Polk County. In many countries GMO seeds are banned, though they are grown widely in the United States.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
7:51 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Farm bill expires, leaves farmers in limbo--again

Ames farmer Jeff Longnecker says the farm bill should provide a safety net.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
6:23 am
Tue September 17, 2013

ISU Researchers Develop New Test for Deadly Pig Virus

PEDV is most deadly to young piglets.
Credit 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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon September 16, 2013

Foaming manure pits pose fire threat, vex researchers

Hogs like these live in barns with slatted floors. Manure and water accumulate in a deep pit below the barn, where foam sometimes forms.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
1:11 pm
Tue September 10, 2013

Syria latest stumbling block on farm bill path

Farmers will soon begin harvesting crops, and making decisions about next year, without a farm bill.
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.”

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon September 9, 2013

Congress still playing the farm bill game

In the Facebook game Farmville 2, players create their own farms. Like real farmers, players plan their moves based on policy.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:05 am
Wed September 4, 2013

Pork checkoff funds research, can't please all producers

Berkshire piglets race around their nursery on Randy Hilleman's farm in State Center. This hog variety is the subject of a Pork Checkoff-funded study at Iowa State.
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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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Thu August 22, 2013

My Farm Roots: Winning respect

Danelle Myer launched her vegetable and herb operatioun, One Farm, in the shadow of her parents' row crops.
Amy Mayer/IPR

This is the eleventh installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

Danelle Myer owns a small vegetable farm and like many other small farmers, she’s passionate about the kind of operation she wants to grow: a small, local business.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Sun August 18, 2013

Greetings from Midwest state fairs

The Little Hands on the Farm exhibit is a big draw for kids at the Iowa State Fair.
Amy Mayer/IPR

The Iowa, Missouri and Illinios state fairs all wrap up this weekend. Couldn't visit them all? Get a glimpse here.

Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:05 am
Tue August 13, 2013

Turmoil in farm transitions

Farm succession plans can strain family relationships. Devan Green rents his family’s farmland and has to answer to family shareholders.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Driving out of the western Iowa town of Panora, the winding roads offer broad vistas of rolling hills. Many of the mailboxes along Redwood Road show the name Arganbright. Jim Arganbright grew up in this area, one of 10 children. He and his wife, Beverly, have eight kids.

Though Jim Arganbright farmed here his whole life, three years ago at the age of 80 he started renting his cropland to his son Tom, the only one of his children who farms full-time. Now, all Jim Arganbright has to worry about is the livestock — and he doesn’t have too much of that.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
8:28 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Series from Harvest Public Media Highlights Role of Age in Farming

The Hawthorn farm has been in the family for four generations since it was founded in the late 1870s by Bob Hawthorn’s great-grandfather who went by the name “Trapper.”
Credit Ray Meints / Nebraska Educational Telecommunications

Next week IPR is launching a 5-part series during Morning Edition from Harvest Public Media on the role of age in farming. It's called "Changing Hands, Changing Lands." It includes a television documentary on Iowa Public Television that airs on August 16th.

IPR's Clay Masters spoke with IPR's Harvest Public Media reporter, Amy Mayer, about the series and some of the research and reporting that went into the project. 

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Bin technology helps protect grain, farmers

Scott Haugan's Marshalltown company HOWGAN SCC offers grain mangaers tools to monitor conditions inside storage bins.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Across the rural Midwest, landscapes are dotted with tall, cylindrical storage containers for grain. Commercial grain elevators and on-farm bins hold commodity crops so they can be sold throughout the year. With yields growing and prices fluctuating, stored corn or soybeans can be as good as money in the bank.  But only if the quality is maintained.

That’s something Kevin Larson’s been monitoring during more than 40 years of farming in Story County. When he started with his dad, he says everyone stored corn, still on the cob, in their own cribs.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Recess prolongs farm bill delay

The lack of federal policy, farmers say, makes planning their fields for next year difficult. These fields in Guthrie County were photographed in early June.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Congress is set to leave town for its summer recess Aug. 2 without passing a new farm bill. The current farm bill extension expires just weeks after lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington and that’s leaving some farmers feeling stymied about planning.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Prairie plants help nourish farmland

Southwest Iowa cattleman Seth Watkins revels in the tall grasses and clear ponds on his pastureland. He says prairie helps his cattle, his business, the soil and the water.
Amy Mayer/IPR

The world’s soil is in trouble, even in the fertile Midwest.  Some experts warn that if degradation continues unchecked, topsoil could be gone in 60 years—with implications for agriculture and the broader environment.

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Business
3:04 am
Thu June 27, 2013

Agriculture's Waning Influence In Washington Hinders Farmers

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:20 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue June 25, 2013

Starting a farm, with an immigrant twist

Air Philavanh bought an 11-acre farm in Milo, Iowa after living in the Midwest for about 30 years. He came to this country as a refugee from Laos in his early 20s.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Air Philavanh is a new farmer in central Iowa who came to this country from Laos as a refugee more than 30 years ago. Today, he’s living on an 11-acre farm in Milo, Iowa about an hour from Des Moines. He bought the place three years ago and he’s built a brand-new shelter for his four beef calves off the end of a decrepit old barn. He’s made many other improvements, too, as he gets his farm up and running. In addition to the cattle, he hopes to add ducks. It’s a far cry from his day job with Citigroup—and not what he initially imagined for himself.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:05 am
Thu June 13, 2013

My Farm Roots: The 1980s farm crisis still resonates for fifth-generation Iowa farmer

Fifth-generation Iowa farmer Mark Kenney savors the lessons he learned from the 1980s farm crisis.
Amy Mayer/IPR

I met Mark Kenney on his family’s farm in Nevada, Iowa, when I was working on a story about farmer taxes. He turned out to be perfect for that—a farmer with a keen interest in spreadsheets.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
2:28 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

Ames High students document sustainability

Berry Patch farm manager Lee Matteson poses while Douglas Gayeton helps Ames High junior Erin Cochran shoot a series of photos.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Inside a high tunnel at Berry Patch farm near Nevada, Iowa, strawberry baskets hang overhead and tomato plants stand tall already laden with fruit. Farm manager Lee Matteson picks several zucchini. Then, he stands there, holding the fresh squash while Will Weber, a sophomore environmental science student from Ames High School, takes a series of photographs.  Beside Weber, and holding another impressive-looking camera, Douglas Gayeton also takes pictures—and issues advice and suggestions to Weber.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Refugees find home on the farm

Lutheran Services of Iowa farm assistant Donna Wilterdink gives transplants to Cubwa Rajabu, who is cultivating a plot at Global Greens Farm.
Amy Mayer/IPR

On a small farm in suburban West Des Moines, Iowa, even the barn is a refugee—an historic structure relocated from nearby Valley High School. The farmers, most of them refugees, are just starting to hoe the land, each one working a 50-foot by 50-foot plot where they’ll grow corn, beans, cabbage, eggplant, onions, tomatoes and peppers.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue May 7, 2013

Conservation acres harder to come by

Iowa farmer John Berdo stands atop one of the terraces that helps control water flow on his crop fields. Terraces are one of many conservation measures Berdo employs.
Amy Mayer/IPR

At a basin in central Iowa’s Onion Creek Watershed, Sean McCoy pulls a state truck up near a brand-new wetland. It looks like a construction zone, with lots of bare earth.

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The Salt
12:54 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

Pork Producers Root Out Market Niche With Berkshire Pigs

Berkshire pigs on Happy Hula Farm, a member of the Eden Farms collective.
Amy Mayer Iowa Public Radio

Originally published on Mon April 29, 2013 2:08 pm

Raising pork can be a tough business for producers, who've lately been watching feed prices rise along with the cost of corn. That's one reason why a small but growing number of former commodity pork producers are trying their luck with specialty breeds instead. These premium pigs, raised on small farms with methods that appeal to consumers, can also fetch a premium price.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 23, 2013

This little piggy has a niche market

These Berkshire pigs move between their feeding and water troughs, at the open end of their hoop house on Randy Hilleman’s farm in State Center, Iowa.
Amy Mayer/IPR

There’s more than one way to sell a pig.

And when the hog market plunged to 8 cents a pound in 1998, Iowa producer Randy Hilleman decided it was time to make a change. Hilleman raises Berkshire pigs, a breed that’s fattier than traditional pigs and costs a little more to raise. Back then, that was hurting him.

“If we took them into Marshalltown, [Iowa] to the big packing plant, we would get docked because they’re too fat,” Hilleman said. “What they pay on is lean, and we like to have some fat on ours.”

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon April 15, 2013

New cages and carton labels could come to egg industry

At Mark Tjelmeland’s farm near McCallsburg, this henhouse opens up to three acres of pasture for the chickens.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Mark Tjelmeland wears Carhartt overalls over a faded blue work shirt and his face is framed by a baseball cap from the local farmers’ cooperative and a curly white beard. He shows me around his homestead in McCallsburg, Iowa, about 20 miles northeast of Ames. This third-generation farmer grows traditional corn and soybeans on one of his farms. But on this one, he’s got a four-crop rotation of certified organic corn, soybeans, oats and hay. And three acres of pasture for his 700 laying hens.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 2, 2013

Taxing complications for farmers

From his farm’s headquarters in Nevada, Iowa, Mark Kenney can see his childhood home and farm. Not pictured, but also within sight, is the original piece of farmland Kenney’s great-great grandfather bought, which is still part of the family farm.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Farmers will be filing their taxes on April 15 this year—just like most other Americans. But usually farmers have to file and pay by March first. It’s just one of many ways that taxes are different for farmers. 

Roger McEowen runs the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University. He offers trainings for lawyers and accountants all over the country to ready them for preparing farm tax returns.

“Farm tax, in many instances, is totally different from taxation with respect to nonfarmers,” McEowen said.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed March 6, 2013

Farmers Face Unknowns As Healthcare Overhaul Approaches

Marilyn Andersen of Story City feeds her angora goats, whose wool she spins and weaves. Andersen will soon be buying individual health insurance.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Marilyn Andersen raises angora goats and llamas for wool that she spins and weaves in her studio at Two Cedars Weaving in Story City, Iowa. She also has a part-time job coordinating distribution of local produce through a service called Farm to Folk. Neither effort comes with health insurance.

“Right now I have health insurance through my husband’s job but that is going to end when he retires in a few months,” she said recently, “and so I’ve just begun a search for health insurance for myself.”

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