Amy Mayer


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.

Ways to Connect

Photo by Amy Mayer

Many corn and soybean farmers in the Midwest are receiving their first government payments under the new Farm Bill enacted last year, and taxpayers are spending more than projected.


Photo by Amy Mayer

In a packed-to-capacity community room in Boone, the three-member Iowa Utility Board heard testimony today over the proposed Bakken oil pipeline, which would carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, across Iowa, to Illinois.

Before testimony got underway, opponents of the pipeline staged a protest outside the community building on the Boone County Fairgrounds.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A Labor Department proposal could make some nitrogen fertilizer more expensive or harder to find. That has Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asking the Labor Department some questions about its new guidance on chemical storage.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal will change tariffs on agricultural exports, but for Midwest farmers and ranchers, the devil is in the details.

The TPP agreement could cut tariffs levied by many countries on U.S. exports like pork and rice, making it easier to get some products into markets in Asia.

Midwest cattle ranchers scored a win under the deal with a big tariff cut in Japan, says David Salmonsen of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Cage-free eggs could be coming to a breakfast near you.

Several large food companies and restaurants, from Starbucks to McDonald's to Kellogg's, announced timelines this year for phasing out eggs laid in conventional cages, a victory for animal welfare advocates who have pushed for changes for years.

But there is more to housing hens than square inches and some egg farmers argue the cage-free barns are less humane than traditional hen housing.

Photo by Amy Mayer

DuPont Industrial Biosciences has opened its cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada.

The company says when it reaches full capacity, the biorefinery will annually convert corn cobs, stalks and other waste left on fields after harvest into 30-million gallons of what is considered a "second generation" renewable fuel. Over the past decade, DuPont received more than $50 million in federal funds to bring its cellulosic technology to the marketplace.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

As Congress moves toward a budget deal, a $3 billion cut to crop insurance is now on the table. This comes after the money was approved as part of the 2014 farm bill, and the proposal is not sitting well with some Midwest senators. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says in a party caucus Monday, he and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) both expressed frustration over pulling more from farm programs. The current five-year farm bill, which includes crop insurance, other agricultural subsidies and many other programs like school nutrition and rural development, was passed early last year.

Photo by Amy Mayer

All week, Harvest Public Media’s series Choice Cuts: Meat In America is examining how the meat industry is changing the U.S. food system and the American diet.

One of the most important tools of modern medicine is in jeopardy. In the 20th century, antibiotics turned once-lethal infections into manageable diseases. They also contributed to the transformation of meat production in America.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed change to the Clean Water Act, known as the Waters of the United States rule, is now on hold nationwide. But an Iowa senator says Congress may resolve the matter.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Many farmers are going to lose money on this year's huge harvest because prices are lower than they have been.

Farm bill subsidy programs, which kick in when the average national price of a commodity drops below a certain price, will almost certainly be triggered this year for corn and soybeans. But it is not yet clear the extent to which those programs will help.

"It's going to help, but it's still not going to get the help above the cost of production," says Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. 

Photo by Amy Mayer

Throughout the cropland of the Midwest, farmers use chemicals on their fields to nourish the plants and the soil. But excess nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients can wash off the fields and into streams, rivers and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

New tools can help farmers monitor their soil and water so they can become part of the solution to this widespread problem.

Photo by John Pemble

The U.S. Congress is back at work with a lengthy agenda for a short month and the federal budget squarely in its sights. Iowa's senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, says the Waters of the U.S rule (WOTUS) is in the cross-hairs.

That rule, which extends Clean Water Act regulations to more bodies of water, went into effect in August, but only in states where courts hadn’t ruled to block it.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A survey of farmland ownership conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture shows that in the next five years about 10 percent of farmland is expected to change ownership.

But Troy Joshua of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says most of those transfers will happen through gifts, bequests, trusts or sales to relatives.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The rural economy across the Midwest could take a hit this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects a 36 percent drop in net farm income, according to economic forecasts released Tuesday.

Lower prices for wheat, corn, soybeans and hogs will hurt many Midwest farms, though USDA economist Mitchell Morehart says the impact could be lessened on some farms thanks to lower production costs. Fuel and feed expenses are both lower this year, though labor is higher.

Photo by Amy Mayer/IPR

Farmers and agriculture officials are gearing up for another round of bird flu this fall, an outbreak they fear could be worse than the devastating spring crisis that hit turkeys and egg-laying hens in the Midwest, wiped out entire farms and sent egg prices sky-high.

The potential target of the highly pathogenic avian flu this fall could be broilers, or meat chickens, as the outbreaks have been triggered and carried by wild birds, which will be flying south in great numbers this fall through several U.S. flyways.

Photo by Amy Mayer


In the Midwest, agriculture can be such a strong lure that there are some farm kids without farms.

Ally Babcock lives with her family in a modern subdivision in Ames, Iowa. Tucked under the home’s back deck is a tiny barn space, enough room for her sheep and rabbits.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

A lawsuit alleging illegal spending of Pork Checkoff money is moving forward, following a federal appeals court decision. Iowa hog farmer Harvey Dillenburg along with the Humane Society of the United States and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, an environmental group, sued U.S.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Farmers have reached a milestone in the recovery from the massive avian flu outbreak last spring. Birds are back in the barns at the Moline family turkey farm in Manson.

Brad Moline says his farm had a few advantages when it came to disposing of turkey carcasses and ridding his barns of the flu virus. For one, he says, they became infected late in the outbreak, on May 19, 2015. By then, Moline says, some of the kinks in the reporting process had been worked out.

Photo by John Pemble

Iowa’s senior senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, remains hopeful after two disappointing recent events. The spring outbreak of avian influenza devastated Iowa’s poultry industry and then this past week talks on the 12-national trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Grassley has strongly supported, broke down.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The potential for further consolidation in the nation’s pork industry could have financial implications for both farmers and consumers. That’s why Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says the Justice Department needs to scrutinize the proposed JBS purchase of Cargill’s pork unit. Currently the two companies rank third and fourth among the nation’s largest pork producers.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Technology has transformed farming, one of the Midwest’s biggest industries, and while fewer people are now needed to actually work the farm field, new types of jobs keep many office workers tied to agriculture.

Beyond operating a tractor and a combine, today’s farmers need to manage all kinds of information. From information technology to web development, the skills that have changed our economy have transformed the agriculture industry as well.

The founder of a global anti-poverty organization is the recipient of the 2015 World Food Prize. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC in his native Bangladesh, but the non-governmental organization has grown to provide economic and social programs to poor communities in many countries. It's one of the largest non-governmental organizations in the world and some say it is the most effective at alleviating poverty.

Photo by Austin Kirk/Flickr

Current high egg prices are likely to continue, as the nation’s flock of egg-laying hens is at its smallest since 2004 thanks to the massive outbreak of avian influenza this spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official numbers show nationally egg production dropped five percent in May compared to May 2014. But in Iowa, the nation’s largest egg producer and the state whose hens took the hardest hit from the flu, the figure is 28 percent.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Chemical runoff from agricultural land in the Midwest continues to contribute to an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico, and the so-called Dead Zone is not shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

The processes by which different countries regulate genetically modified crops vary, which can lead to billions of dollars in disrupted trade.

Differing regulations led to a huge corn kerfuffle between China and the United States in 2013. U.S. regulators had approved a new GM trait from Syngenta, which sold seeds containing that trait to American farmers. But when the corn arrived at Chinese ports and regulators there found the trait, they rejected all U.S. corn because China had not yet approved the trait. American farmers now allege the stoppage cost them dearly.

IPR file photo by John Pemble

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator says the federal rule-making process is out of control. Republican Chuck Grassley says recent changes to the Renewable Fuels Standard and Waters of the US Rule were made without adequate Congressional oversight.

“Regulation should be high-quality, based on sound-science and crafted in (the) open, with the public’s participation,” Grassley says, “and properly reviewable by the courts. Transparency brings accountability.”

Photo by John Pemble

Tallying results from the Iowa presidential caucuses will rely on mobile technology for the first time in 2016. The Democratic and Republican parties and Microsoft jointly announced that apps are being developed for each party that will tabulate precinct results, verify them, and quickly make them publicly available.

“The caucus results will be delivered via this new mobile-enabled, cloud-based platform that will help facilitate these accurate and timely results,” says Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of Technology and Civic Engagement.

Photo by Amy Mayer

Walk down a grocery store aisle today and you’re likely to find lots of food…and lots of marketing claims. Whether a product’s label says it’s low in fat, produced without hormones, or a good source of protein is largely governed by consumer demand and corporate profit.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The packaged foods found in supermarkets, convenience stores and vending machines are full of ingredients you often can’t pronounce.

They’ve been carefully developed and tested in a lab and likely have been shipped long distances. They can hold up to weeks or even months on the shelf. But most of them began with fresh food you might cook with at home.

Photo by Amy Mayer/IPR file

Composting millions of euthanized birds affected by avian flu is arduous and some poultry producers say the process takes too long. The corn stover usually used for cellulosic ethanol may help the process.

Stover is comprised of stalks, cobs and other waste left after harvest. A combination of heat and carbon-rich corn waste accelerates decomposition and kills the virus. The leftover material provides farmers with a compost to spread on fields.