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

For 10 years a program from Iowa State University has helped prepare first-time candidates to run for political office. It’s held during odd years and this year’s program has attracted a record number of participants.

Three day-long programs in Ames are offering tips and tools for running a campaign and getting elected, from fundraising and campaign finance rules to communication strategies and social media.

The nation has a new agriculture secretary.

The U.S. Senate on Monday voted to confirm former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead the Department of Agriculture. He takes over a department that was without a top boss for three months after former secretary Tom Vilsack resigned. Vilsack served the entire eight years of the Obama administration (one of the longest-serving agriculture secretaries in recent decades).

Three months after his nomination, Sonny Perdue faces a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate Monday for the post of secretary of agriculture.

If confirmed, Perdue will find a desk at USDA piled high with priorities and will be one of the last members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet to be seated.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is holding meetings around the state during the April recess. In a session with farmers, he heard complaints about health insurance premiums and deductibles continuing to climb. Grassley says the recent news that two companies will stop selling individual policies in the state, and the failure to get a new healthcare law signed, also concern him.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Competition and consolidation in the meat industry may drive a wedge between President Donald Trump and one of Iowa's U.S. senators.

Republican Chuck Grassley says he's introducing a bill to prevent meat packing companies from owning livestock, which he hopes will protect family farms by preserving their ability to compete in the open market.  

But the proposal contrasts with the president's efforts to reduce business regulations. Grassley says if the president opposes his bill, that's okay with him.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Hybrid seed corn and nitrogen fertilizer transformed farming in the 20th century, but they are also closely tied to some of today’s major agricultural challenges. That has prompted some members of two families that played pivotal roles in developing farm innovations to work on putting a lighter, 21st century stamp on the landscape.

In Carlisle, Iowa, Rob Fleming still uses the 1947 Ford 2n tractor he drove on the family farm as a teenager. Back then, his family’s fields were lined with neat rows of corn. Not anymore.

John Pemble /IPR file photo

President Donald Trump’s choice to head the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awaiting a vote in the Senate agriculture committee, which could come this week. Committee member Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is confident Perdue will ultimately be confirmed by the full Senate.

“Agriculture will have a big advocate in the Trump administration once Gov. Perdue is in place,” Grassley says.

usembassy_montevideo/Flickr

 

President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, testified in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Agriculture committee today, but remains far from the head job at USDA.

 

The committee did not indicate when it would vote on whether to advance Perdue’s nomination.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

President Donald Trump has nominated former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary, bucking a recent trend of Midwest leadership at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and making many in the farm country of the Midwest and Great Plans a little leery.

Coupled with the appointments of leaders from Oklahoma and Texas to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy, respectively, there looks to be a shift in the power center of the parts of the federal government that most directly impact agriculture.

Harvest Public Media file photo

The agriculture sector needs to ramp up its response to climate change, especially in the Midwest, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Researchers at the University of Maryland used climate projections and historical trends in agricultural productivity to predict how changes in temperature and rainfall will impact food production.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

President Donald Trump will offer his first address to a joint session of Congress tonight.

Iowa's senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, says he'll be there listening closely for the president's plans to help rural America, because he's a little nervous about the Trump's commitment to renegotiating free trade deals.

"Any president that can improve America's position in free trade agreements, nobody's going to bad mouth that," Grassley says. "I just advise him to be careful what he does, because usually agriculture is the first thing being retaliated."

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Farmers in the U.S. like to point out that their products feed people all over the world. And while this is a diverse country, the people working on farms and elsewhere in agriculture often don’t reflect the nation’s demographics. Changing that is becoming a priority, in hopes new people will bring fresh ideas to meet some of our food system’s greatest challenges.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a clear, cold winter evening, the sun begins to set at Lost Lake Farm near Jewell, Iowa, and Kevin Dietzel calls his 15 dairy cows to come home.

"Come on!" he hollers in a singsong voice, "Come on!"

Brown Swiss cows and black Normandy cows trot across the frozen field and, in groups of four, are ushered into the small milking parlor.

Amy Mayer/IPR

President Obama’s two-term agriculture secretary will soon slip through one of Washington’s revolving doors and switch from government official to private sector executive eager to push for an industry agenda.

 

Former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that his first job outside the Cabinet will be heading up a dairy industry trade group that pushes for access to foreign markets, the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A federal court has sided with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a case that environmental groups had hoped would hasten water clean-up efforts.

 

The Gulf Restoration Network and environmental groups from states that border the Mississippi River argued the EPA needs to enforce numerical standards for water quality. In other words, the agency should establish maximum allowable levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, and then have a means to penalize states that exceed those amounts.

Charity Nebbe/IPR

Wintry weather brings the risk of blowing and drifting snow to Iowa's roads.

A partnership between the Iowa Department of Transportation and farmland owners to reduce that risk is raising its public profile this year.

For about 20 years, standing corn has helped create a barrier to contain the blowing and drifting snow, preventing it from reaching the highways where it can create slippery surfaces and dangerous driving conditions. Craig Bargfrede, winter operations administrator for the DOT, says it works just as well as temporary snow fences and is a lot cheaper.

Amy Mayer/IPR

In a hog barn near Odebolt, veterinarian Paul Thomas's approach sends pigs scurrying. He watches for unusual behavior. As he walks the length of the barn, Thomas notices one of the two-month-old hogs nestled against the railing at the edge of its pen and reaches over to gently pet the pig's back. The pig shakes its head and drowsily gets up.

 

"He's just sleepy," Thomas says, and by the time he's spoken the words, the pig has trotted off to join its pen-mates.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

With farmers coming off a third straight year of lower incomes, 2017 may require more belt-tightening for many.

Persistently low prices for major commodity crops including corn and soybeans may inch up slightly in the New Year. But farmers may find they still need to adjust their strategies to ride out the slump.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Cropland in the Midwest is losing its value as the downturn in the agriculture economy continues, according to a number of surveys by agricultural economists. Record-high crop prices contributed to record-high land values in 2012 and 2013, but now, that party is over.

 

"Now what we have is [an] overproduction, oversupply issue," says Wendong Zhang, an Iowa State University economist.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa's beef producers have agreed to spend an extra 50 cents a head for a state checkoff.

Checkoff programs fund marketing and education for a variety of agricultural products. The state conducted a referendum on Nov. 30 to see whether cattle producers wanted to re-establish a state checkoff.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is being recognized for encouraging young people to choose careers that will help farmers combat climate change and feed more people.

Since 2011, USDA has partnered with the Des Moines-based World Food Prize to offer fellowships in Washington, D.C. for agriculture students.

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

As he prepares to leave Washington, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warns the next administration about the impact of global markets on U. S. farmers. 

Vilsack is quick to point out he’s not privy to any information from the Republican president-elect, but he’s worried about how Donald Trump will approach immigration and trade.  Vilsack says bad decisions could spur retaliation from China and Mexico—two of the top three trading partners for the U.S.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The corn and soybeans so abundant in Iowa could someday replace many of the plastic pots and flats at your local garden shop.

Researchers at Iowa State University set about to create pots for plants that were not made from petroleum products and that could biodegrade. They started with a corn-based bioplastic and tried a number of different formulas. Some of those included a polymer made from soybeans.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Americans may find more meat on their holiday tables this year, at cheaper prices.

U.S. livestock production is in full swing. Beef and pork together set a new record recently -- commodity analysis firm Urner Barry reported an all-time high of 1.0618 billion pounds of beef and pork produced in U.S. slaughterhouses the week that ended November 19. Meanwhile, Midwest turkey producers have recovered from a massive 2015 avian flu outbreak.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

As another harvest season wraps up, Midwest farmers are once again facing low commodity prices amid enormous supplies. And when they recover from the long days bringing in the grain, they will eventually sit down with their books and try to figure out how best to farm again next year.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A coalition of state environmental groups called the Mississippi River Collaborative is pressuring the federal Environmental Protection Agency to do more to clean up waterways in the Mississippi River Watershed.

In a report released today, the group calls upon the EPA to take concrete action to force improvements in water quality.

Pat Blank/IPR

Iowa’s congressional incumbents all won reelection Tuesday, as the delegation remains at three Republicans and one Democrat. 

Republican 1st District Rep. Rod Blum of Dubuque defeated former Cedar Rapids council member Monica Vernon, capturing 54 percent of the vote across 20 counties in northeast Iowa.

Once the race was called in his favor, Blum told a raucous crowd in Dubuque that’s he is going back to Capitol Hill finish what he started when he voted against then-House Speaker John Boehner.

Amy Mayer/IPR

If Dow and DuPont succeed with their proposal to merge and spinoff three companies, one focused on agribusiness, the new companies will open a fresh chapter in the corporate histories of two titans of American industry.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa's 4th Congressional District covers 39 counties, from the northwest corner through much of north-central part of the state. It's the largest and most conservative district--38 percent of registered voters are Republicans.

That hasn't deterred Democrat Kim Weaver from launching a campaign to unseat seven-term incumbent Steve King.

In fact, it has attracted the attention of some out-of-state politicians. At an event in Ames, Congressman Eric Swalwell, (D-Calif.) who was born in the district, came through to campaign for Weaver.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Five of the six biggest companies that produce and sell seeds and chemicals to the world's farmers are pursuing deals that could leave a market dominated by just three giant, global companies. They say getting bigger means bringing more sophisticated and innovative solutions to farmers faster, but opponents say consolidation has irreversible downsides.

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