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. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.

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

With former Gov. Terry Branstad as the U.S. ambassador to China, some Iowans see new opportunities for the state in that country.

“At the moment, as the former governor has taken up his position as the ambassador to Beijing, China’s on a lot of people’s minds,” says Jeffrey Kappen, a Drake University professor of international business. “And I and others would argue that we have a window of time where Iowa is on people’s minds in China and we should do everything we can do take advantage of the opportunity.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

Plant breeder Jessica Barb is on a mission to improve how sunflowers self-pollinate, a trait that’ll be increasingly important to farmers as wild bee populations diminish. Her research tool of choice: a paper towel.

In a field outside of Ames, Iowa, she swipes the paper towel across the head of a bright yellow-and-red sunflower—bred to feed Iowa State University fans’ frenzy for all things in the school’s colors—and transfers the pollen on the paper towel to a different flower. Researchers recently unlocked the genetic code of the entire plant, which means Barb will more quickly be able to identify the specific genes that play a role in self-pollination.

Sunflowers are a global commodity crop with a growing demand, though they’re currently a minor player on the United States’ agricultural scene. The genome-mapping is likely to create better hybrid seeds, but there’s no reason to expect the picturesque crop, despite its profit potential, will quickly overtake the Corn Belt.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture won’t go forward with rules meant to make it easier for small livestock producers to report possible unfair treatment.

The agency’s decision on the proposal, which came at the tail end of the Obama administration, was announced Tuesday and met with mixed response.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Galen Fick milks 50 Brown Swiss cows every day on his farm in Boyden, Iowa, where his family has been in the dairy business for generations. Life as a dairy farmer has gotten harder and harder, he says, especially in the past two years.

“Our inputs have gone up so much, not the feed part of it but everything else,” he says, pointing to veterinary care and, especially, labor. “For us to make that profit, [it] makes it very tough.”

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa’s secretary of agriculture is one step closer to a new post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Bill Northey appeared before the senate agriculture committee Thursday. He answered questions about a variety of farm-support and conservation programs he would oversee as undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services. One of those is the conservation reserve program, which pays farmers to take certain lands out of production and maintain them for environmental goals. Northey hedged on whether he would support expanding the amount of acres allowed in the program.

COURTESY OF CHRISTOPHER GANNON/IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY

A new study says small patches of native prairie plants provide a range of conservation benefits to Iowa’s landscape and could reduce water pollution from farm fields.

So-called “prairie strips” are patches of land strategically planted to native, perennial mixes of grasses and flowers on the edges of crop fields.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Lawsuits brought by farmers against one of the world’s leading seed companies will end in settlements.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Even as wind energy production has grown in recent years to be a large part of the country’s energy portfolio, a chill around federal funding for renewable energy has researchers increasingly turning to industry partners to bring the next generation of innovation to the marketplace.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

As farmers prepare to start the harvest, they have a fresh commitment from one of the leading importers of corn and dried distiller's grains.

A delegation from Taiwan recently visited Iowa and promised to buy 197 million bushels of corn and a half-million tons of dried distiller's grains.

"This represents roughly 20 percent of the US export of corn," says Atalissa farmer Mark Heckman, who met with the Taiwanese visitors and serves on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. "From a distiller's grains purchasers (perspective), they're number 1 now that China is not in this market."

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State University is announcing the largest single gift to one of its colleges. The College of Business will be renamed in honor of the donors.

“Jerry and Debbie Ivy are the reason we’re here today,” interim ISU president Ben Allen, a former dean of the business school, told a nearly packed lecture hall Monday morning. “It’s because of their extraordinary generosity that we are announcing a $50 million commitment to name the College of Business.”

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Voters head to the polls across Iowa Tuesday to elect local school boards and many candidates are running for office for the first time. 

Last spring, the Ready to Run campaign training program sponsored by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Woman and Politics at Iowa State University attracted 172 people, more than double the next-highest enrollment. Iowa State political science professor Dianne Bystrom says some of them will be on local school board ballots.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Drones are gaining in popularity as industries from farming to retail to insurance find ways the unmanned flying vehicles can help make businesses more profitable. At Iowa State University, a team of engineers is trying to get ahead of likely complaints about drone noise.

Anupam Sharma, an aerospace engineering professor at Iowa State, takes inspiration from owls to design noise-reduction strategies for airplanes and wind turbines because owls are naturally nearly-silent fliers. Drones challenge Sharma’s team to think on a scale closer to the size of an owl.

When Congress gets back to work after the Labor Day holiday, re-upping the farm bill is one many hope can be done in a bipartisan manner. The current law, which funds a wide range of programs including food stamps, farmers subsidies, rural development and agricultural research, expires in 2018.

Traditionally, the farm bill has skirted the worst of partisan politics, but vacancies at the top of the Agriculture Department mean fewer leaders working on it this time around.

CHAFER MACHINERY/CREATIVE COMMONS

Applying large amounts of pesticides to farm fields can have negative effects on babies born to mothers living nearby, according to new research.

The data-crunching study published in Nature Communications looked at the farm-heavy San Joaquin Valley in California, where a variety of pesticides get applied to dozens of different crops including fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Iowa’s efforts to improve water quality could get a boost in the next legislative session.

At a meeting Monday in Des Moines to highlight partnerships among farmers, environmental groups, and state and federal agencies, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says lawmakers would likely send more money to conservation efforts in the coming years.

courtesy Iowans for Sam Clovis

As President Donald Trump continues to fill political appointments, his nomination for the top science job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is raising unique concerns.

Trump has chosen Iowan Sam Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics. Clovis served as a fighter pilot in the Air Force, has a doctorate in public administration, and taught economics at Morningside College in Sioux City.

Sioux City is also where he gained a following as a conservative talk show host.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Several new gun-related measures enacted during the 2017 Iowa legislative session are taking effect and Iowa Public Radio is exploring their implications for the state. But it’s hard to follow gun news if you don’t speak the language. Come along on visits to Camp Dodge, Brownells retail gun shop, and the Story County Sheriff’s office to learn about different types of firearms.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The dairy show at the Iowa State Fair continues into Saturday and cows are milked throughout each day. All the milk collected this year at the fair will be dumped.

In years past, milk collected from dairy cows during the state fair was sold to a Des Moines area co-op for production into cheese. But this year, the longstanding buyer backed out and no one else stepped up.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State University’s enrollment has escalated since 2009, while the state’s appropriation to the school has plunged. That’s the message interim President Ben Allen presented to the Board of Regents tuition task force today in Ames.

Clay Masters / IPR

Iowa farmers are making land use decisions aimed at helping farm chemical runoff curb into streams, rivers and, ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s dead zone in Gulf is the biggest one ever, and Iowa’s secretary of agriculture says more changes are needed. Bill Northey says cover crops, which keep roots in the ground and prevent nutrients and soil from washing away, are a key practice. But he says statewide only about three to four percent of farmland gets a cover crop. 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Chemical runoff from Midwest farm fields is contributing to the largest so-called dead zone on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Scientists have mapped the size of the oxygen-deprived region in the Gulf since 1985. This year’s is estimated at more than 8,700 square miles, which is about the size of New Jersey.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

On a cloudy summer day, Iowa farmer Wendy Johnson lifts the corner of a mobile chicken tractor, a lightweight plastic frame covered in wire mesh that has corralled her month-old meat chickens for a few days, and frees several dozen birds to peck the surrounding area at will. Soon, she’ll sell these chickens to customers at local markets in eastern Iowa.

Mad Cow Disease Detected In Alabama

Jul 18, 2017

A case of mad cow disease has been found in a cow in Alabama.

U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists confirmed Tuesday that an 11-year-old cow found in an Alabama livestock market suffered from the neurologic cattle disease, formally called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal “at no time presented a risk to the food supply, or to human health in the United States,” according to the USDA.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

This summer's hot weather could bring down soybean yields for some farmers.

Iowa State University extension is alerting farmers that hot, dry conditions are what the disease charcoal rot waits for. Daren Mueller, an ISU extension plant pathologist, says once it attacks, there's little a farmer can do.

"At this point it's more of trying to scout and figure out what fields would have that pathogen in it to make decisions in future years," he says, "the next time you planted soybeans."

Amy Mayer/IPR

As Highway 30 enters Denison, a city of 8,000, the national fast food chains stand next to Mexican groceries and restaurants. In this small city near the Nebraska border, waves of immigrants have been arriving since at least the 1980s.

 

In small, rural, diverse towns like this one, religious institutions can play an important role. Often, they provide needed social services. Many are a small slice of home. And they can serve as some of the most prominent points of connection between the different communities in town.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

The Diocese of Sioux City is rolling out changes that will close or consolidate many Catholic churches in northwest Iowa as part of its Ministry 2025 plan.

A shortage of priests and declining participation in weekly Mass fueled the Diocese to find more efficient ways to serve Catholic communities. Father Paul Kelly celebrates Mass in English and Spanish at St. Rose of Lima in Denison, a small western Iowa city that may soon welcome more parishioners from nearby communities.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A federal jury in Kansas City, Kansas, awarded nearly $218 million to Kansas corn farmers after finding seed giant Syngenta AG was negligent when it introduced strains of genetically engineered corn seed into the marketplace that were not approved for import by the Chinese government.  

The eight-member jury returned its $217,700,000 verdict after an 18-day-long trial, the first of eight certified class actions lawsuits against Syngenta brought in state court.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

President Donald Trump will be in Cedar Rapids tomorrow. He will tour Kirkwood Community College with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The visit will give them a look at advanced agriculture technologies offered in the country’s largest two-year agriculture program, and may offer an opportunity to speak on farm policy.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Two giants of American agriculture and industry are closer to becoming one.

 

Dow and DuPont, both leaders in agricultural chemicals and seeds, among other products, received approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to move ahead with a merger, provided they divest several products.

 

file: Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

President Trump is touting the need to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, and water transportation systems this week and farmers are among those hoping to benefit from new federal attention to infrastructure.

 

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