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

 

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.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The massive industry that supplies farmers with the tools to raise crops is on the brink of a watershed moment. High-profile deals that would see some of the largest global agri-chemical companies combine are in the works and could have ripple effects from farm fields to dinner tables across the globe.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The annual Borlaug Dialogue, a week-long celebration of global food and agriculture in conjunction with the World Food Prize, is underway in Des Moines.

World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, who grew up in Muscatine, said today when he first went to the World Bank, economists there were reluctant to give cash assistance to help people out of poverty. But he said that has changed. Now, they see that offering both money and services, like education and healthcare, can lift children out of poverty.

File: Courtesy Stephen Carmody/Michigan Radio

The next Congress may take up the farm bill a year ahead of schedule.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A lawsuit farmers have filed against seed giant Syngenta will proceed as a class action, potentially involving hundreds of thousands of corn growers nationwide.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lungstrum approved the motion to certify the Syngenta AG MIR 162 Corn Litigation as a class action Monday in Kansas City, Kansas.

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Ames is among the central Iowa communities recovering from heavy rains late Thursday night.

Assistant city manager Brian Phillips says parts of Ames received five inches of rain, much of it falling in about an hour.  And he says at least two manhole covers disappeared in the deluge.

"If there's a storm sewer that has a very large slug of water going through it, that can compress the air underneath the manhole cover," Phillips says, "and that compression pushes upward [and] can pop the manhole cover off."

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Supporters and opponents of several proposed mergers among agricultural seed and chemical companies are making their case to lawmakers in Washington.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday to, as committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grasley (R-Iowa) put it, get everything out on the table. Grassley says public testimony can raise concerns the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission may need to consider as they evaluate the proposed new pairings.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

"Here is one of the tiles," he says, pointing to a pipe about six or eight inches in diameter. Water trickles from it into a culvert that runs under the road after flowing through a network of underground drainage lines below his farm field. "That's where it outlets."

Amy Mayer/IPR

The Democratic candidate for vice president is reaching out to students and other voters in Iowa.

Iowa State University student Eric Spies introduced Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he was making his first stop in Iowa since Hillary Clinton chose him as her running mate. Kaine's wife, Anne Holton, also spoke to the crowd of a couple hundred people, many of them students, at the Memorial Union on the Iowa State campus in Ames. 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

St. Louis-based Monsanto, a world agribusiness leader, has agreed to be acquired by the German company Bayer. Bayer will pay $57 billion dollars, or $128 per share, in a deal that has been in the works since last spring.

Two other mergers are underway in the industry, with Dow set to combine with DuPont (already the owner of Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer) and ChemChina planning to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

Amy Mayer/IPR

As driverless cars begin to roam the streets, autonomous farm machinery is not far behind. The same fundamental technology that allows a vehicle to maneuver through city traffic may someday let a farmer send his tractor off to work on its own.

New Holland, the Pennsylvania-based equipment maker, demonstrated one of its large tractors outfitted to run autonomously during the recent Farm Progress Show in Boone.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Iowa State Extension's Women in Agriculture Program is recognizing several Iowans as Women Impacting the Land. The awards celebrate farm work ranging from traditional row crops to livestock to perennial trees and nuts. Madeline Schultz, the director of the Women in Agriculture program, says the increased awareness of women's contributions to farming inspired the awards.

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