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

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As farmers put their 2016 crops in the ground, they face another year of corn and soybean prices that will make turning a profit on the land challenging. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says already he's seeing early signs of strain in the farm economy.

"We're hearing a little bit from bankers," he said. "We're hearing isolated instances of farmers [hurting]. We're hearing that the 800 number where farmers that are in trouble can call in and ask for help or get advice that they're getting a few more calls now."

Photo by Amy Mayer

Near Alexander, Iowa, on a cloudy spring Tuesday, Josh Nelson watches a bright red Case IH Magnum 340 tractor pull a 24-row planter and crest a small hill, dropping corn seed at careful intervals. Nelson says his family farm dodged a weather bullet this week, but it's just one of many hurdles this season promises.

 

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm. He weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

"When you're feeding, you're always double-checking yourself to make sure it's going in the right lot," Nissen says. It's important — because these cows munch on more than just the common mix of hay, corn and distiller's grain. They're also charged with testing out different formulas developed by the researchers in the animal science department at Iowa State.

Photo by Amy Mayer

On a cold windy morning, Kelly Nissen feeds the cows at the Iowa State University Beef Nutrition Farm north of Ames. Far from just tossing hay, he weighs out specific rations and carefully delivers them to numbered feed bunks.

"When you're feeding, you’re always double-checking yourself to make sure it's going in the right lot," Nissen says.

 

Photo by Amy Mayer

The country's top attorney on national security issues told Iowans Wednesday that all Internet-connected computers are potentially vulnerable to outside attacks.

John Carlin, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, visited central Iowa to share with business leaders what the government sees as threats, and how companies can protect themselves.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

North Carolina-based Prestage Farms has announced plans to build a 10,000 head-capacity hog processing plant in Mason City. The company's estimated investment would be $240 million.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Newly published research shows the pig virus that swept through the United States beginning in 2013 and killed more than six million piglets could survive a trip around the world, if it catches the right ride.

 

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Hundreds of lawsuits against seed company Syngenta could develop into a major class-action potentially involving almost every corn farmer in the country.

In 2013, China rejected certain American imports because they contained corn grown from Viptera seeds, a Syngenta product with a new genetically engineered trait. The trait was approved for sale in the United States, but China's regulators had not yet approved it, though they have since.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Take a road trip through the Midwest during the growing season, and it feels like you're moving through a sea of corn and soybeans grown largely for livestock feed or ethanol. But now, low grain prices and increasing pressure to clean up waterways may push some farmers to consider other options. 

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

One of Iowa's U.S. Senators says he's surprised at how far the state's wind energy production has come. Iowa continues to lead the nation in wind energy, and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley was among its early backers. This week the US Department of Energy reported Iowa generates more than 30 percent of its power from wind, the highest percentage in the country. Grassley says back in 1992 when he pushed for tax incentives for wind energy, he didn't expect it would get this big.

"I'm glad it is," Grassley says, "but I'm just telling you I didn't foresee that."

Harvest Public Media file photo by Grant Gerlock

A major player in the U.S. ethanol market is filing for bankruptcy, following pressure from Midwest corn suppliers who say they're owed millions of dollars and financial troubles for the Spain-based parent company at home.

 

Photo by Amy Mayer

The Hy-Vee grocery chain is recalling macadamia nuts because they may be contaminated with salmonella.

The West Des Moines-based grocer says the two-ounce packages of the nuts were distributed to all of its retail stores, and should not be eaten.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The new agriculture company founded in the wake of the merger of industry titans Dow and DuPont will not be headquartered in Iowa, as local politicians had hoped, the companies announced Friday.

Iowa's Congressional delegation pushed for the companies to put the newly-formed agriculture business in Iowa, but it will be headquartered in Wilmington, Delaware. Still, Johnston, Iowa, where DuPont Pioneer is based, and Indianapolis will serve as what the companies call "Global Business Centers."

Courtesy Programa Nacional de Acrídios/Senasa

The normally dry northern region of Argentina has a problem of biblical proportions.

Farmers there are struggling with a massive outbreak of locusts. Dark clouds of the green-brown bugs cast shadows when they fly overhead and when they land, they cover the ground.

"It is really, really, amazing when you see the locusts because you see millions of them together," said Juan Pablo Karnatz, who raises cattle in Santiago del Estero, about 600 miles northwest of Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires. "When you think they can be more millions flying around, it could be a disaster."

Amy Mayer/IPR

The path to a lifelong appointment on the Supreme Court passes through the Senate Judiciary Committee. And with the opening created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend, some in the Republican-controlled Senate are hoping to put off a replacement until after the November elections.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the judiciary committee, says he is in no hurry to confirm a replacement for Justice Scalia.

Don Graham/Flickr

Cuts to the crop insurance program will again be a talking point on Capitol Hill.

The budget drafted by President Obama and released Tuesday would make cuts to the crop insurance system, allocate more funds for agricultural research and fund the summer program that provides free meals to children.

Courtesy Adam Dolezal

The persistent decline of honeybees has scientists scrambling to understand what's causing the problem and how to correct it. Humans may be part of the problem.

 

U.S. beekeepers report losing about a third of their colonies each year and the figure increased from 2014 to 2015.

 

Joyce Russell, Sarah Boden, Amy Mayer/IPR

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses for the Republican presidential nomination, while the Democratic race between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was considered neck-and-neck early this morning.

In a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Cruz thanked Iowa Republicans while also referencing scripture, Reagan Democrats, and what he calls “courageous conservatives”.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Delays by the U.S. Department of Agriculture helped make the outbreak of a fast-spreading pig virus worse, according to a federal watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical report last month on the USDA’s handling of 2013’s outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. (pdf)

Photo by Amy Mayer

For almost a year, presidential candidates have been crisscrossing Iowa, wooing voters in a state that relies on agriculture for about one-third of its economy. But even here, most voters live in cities or suburbs and don't have a first-hand connection to the farm.

That makes it difficult to get candidates talking about food system issues from school lunches, to crop supports, to water quality. Yet these all fall under the federal agriculture department. If candidates aren't talking about them in Iowa, it's possible they'll be left out of the campaigns entirely.

Photo by John Pemble

The U.S. Senate could vote this week on the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which aims to upgrade the country's power grid, improve energy efficiency, and repeal outdated provisions in the US Code. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says the bipartisan bill doesn't specifically address ethanol production or wind energy tax credits, two issues he recognizes as important to Iowans.

Amy Mayer/IPR

At an event in Ames Tuesday, Hillary Clinton picked up the endorsement of the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence. The rally at Iowa State University kicked off with a somber tone as leaders of the Brady Campaign recounted stories of loved ones lost to gun violence. Clinton says their support is motivating her to keep gun-sales reform at the center of the campaign.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The time is ripe for the sharing economy in farm country.

Much like other Web-based companies such as Airbnb or Uber, a site dedicated to leasing and using farm equipment is making available expensive machinery during the times producers need it most. And the idea is taking root as crop and livestock prices trend lower and costs climb higher.

"You get innovative when things get tighter," said Chad Hart, an agriculture economist at Iowa State University. "We're looking for ways to enhance income right now especially in a low margin environment."

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Advocates for listing the monarch butterfly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act are tired of waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make up its mind.

"We filed a notice of intent to sue so that they have to give us a date to make that decision on whether or not they're going to protect the monarch," says Tierra Curry, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity which, along with other groups, petitioned the federal agency in 2014 citing an 80-percent decline in the monarch population over the past 20 years.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley says changes to the complex federal tax code could be coming this year. Grassley is a member and former chair of the Senate finance committee. He's long-advocated for a tax system with fewer rates.

"If we were going to have a simple reform, we would have one tax rate, with an exemption for low and middle income people," he says. One figure for that cut-off, which he says is often used, is $36,000, after which workers would be subject to a flat tax.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

During the final year of the Obama administration, Congress will likely address several agricultural concerns. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who sits on the Senate agriculture committee, expects the federal government could tackle free trade, childhood nutrition and ongoing implementation of the farm bill.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Corn Belt farmers faced a down year in 2015, according to Agriculture Department numbers. Demand for grain was high, but farmers hauled in an enormous supply of corn and soybeans, keeping prices low. USDA says overall farm income in 2015 is likely to be down 55 percent compared to a peak in 2013.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Another outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest remains likely, even if farms and public health systems are more prepared to deal with it.

 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Each year, Iowa State University surveys hundreds of bankers, appraisers, and realtors to capture a snapshot of farmland values. The decline of about four percent this year marks the first time since the farm crisis of the 1980s that values have dropped two years in a row. ISU economist Wendong Zhang says that doesn’t mean values will plunge.

"It's still much less than what you see in the 1980s," Zhang says, "and there are a lot of income and cash accumulation over the past few years so I don't think you'll see a large crisis as you've seen in the 1980s."

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Veterinarian and researcher Scott Dee doesn't much look the part of a detective, in his jeans and company polo shirt.

But when a virus never before seen in North America swept through the network of hog farms where he works, Pipestone Veterinary Services, in January 2014, he had his first clue.

"These farms had the same pattern of infection," Dee said.

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