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

On a small farm in suburban West Des Moines, Iowa, even the barn is a refugee—an historic structure relocated from nearby Valley High School. The farmers, most of them refugees, are just starting to hoe the land, each one working a 50-foot by 50-foot plot where they’ll grow corn, beans, cabbage, eggplant, onions, tomatoes and peppers.

Amy Mayer/IPR

At a basin in central Iowa’s Onion Creek Watershed, Sean McCoy pulls a state truck up near a brand-new wetland. It looks like a construction zone, with lots of bare earth.

Raising pork can be a tough business for producers, who've lately been watching feed prices rise along with the cost of corn. That's one reason why a small but growing number of former commodity pork producers are trying their luck with specialty breeds instead. These premium pigs, raised on small farms with methods that appeal to consumers, can also fetch a premium price.

Amy Mayer/IPR

There’s more than one way to sell a pig.

And when the hog market plunged to 8 cents a pound in 1998, Iowa producer Randy Hilleman decided it was time to make a change. Hilleman raises Berkshire pigs, a breed that’s fattier than traditional pigs and costs a little more to raise. Back then, that was hurting him.

“If we took them into Marshalltown, [Iowa] to the big packing plant, we would get docked because they’re too fat,” Hilleman said. “What they pay on is lean, and we like to have some fat on ours.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

Mark Tjelmeland wears Carhartt overalls over a faded blue work shirt and his face is framed by a baseball cap from the local farmers’ cooperative and a curly white beard. He shows me around his homestead in McCallsburg, Iowa, about 20 miles northeast of Ames. This third-generation farmer grows traditional corn and soybeans on one of his farms. But on this one, he’s got a four-crop rotation of certified organic corn, soybeans, oats and hay. And three acres of pasture for his 700 laying hens.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Farmers will be filing their taxes on April 15 this year—just like most other Americans. But usually farmers have to file and pay by March first. It’s just one of many ways that taxes are different for farmers. 

Roger McEowen runs the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University. He offers trainings for lawyers and accountants all over the country to ready them for preparing farm tax returns.

“Farm tax, in many instances, is totally different from taxation with respect to nonfarmers,” McEowen said.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Marilyn Andersen raises angora goats and llamas for wool that she spins and weaves in her studio at Two Cedars Weaving in Story City, Iowa. She also has a part-time job coordinating distribution of local produce through a service called Farm to Folk. Neither effort comes with health insurance.

“Right now I have health insurance through my husband’s job but that is going to end when he retires in a few months,” she said recently, “and so I’ve just begun a search for health insurance for myself.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

We continue now with Harvest Public Media’s three-part series on the Science of the Seed. Over the past two days we’ve considered the beginnings of genetic modification and how control of the technology is changing as patents expire. Today, we wrap up with the question that drives seed company executives and farmers alike: how can we grow more crops?  Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer looks at how seed innovations push the boundaries of what the land can produce.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The vast majority of the corn and soybeans in United States grow from seeds that have been genetically modified. The technology is barely 30 years old and the controversy surrounding it somewhat younger. But how did it even become possible?

Courtesy of Whistleblower.org

Every year, more than 9-billion chickens and turkeys are slaughtered, then inspected for defects before heading to market.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to modernize that inspection process, which dates back to 1950s-era poultry law. But while industry, government and consumer groups agree that updating makes sense, there’s widespread disagreement over whether the USDA’s proposals will make things better. Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports.

Amy Mayer/IPR

New food safety regulations are about to be announced by the Food and Drug Administration and they apply to commodity grains.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard calls for one billion gallons of ethanol produced from non-food plant matter rather than grain next year. It’s a goal industry is woefully unprepared to meet.  But as Iowa Public Radio and Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, with several plants in the works, cellulosic ethanol is poised to hit the commercial market sometime in 2013. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

A leader in animal welfare is encouraging Iowa farmers to continue improving their livestock operations. Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports. 

courtesy of Meals from the Heartland

Iowa volunteers are turning regional ingredients into worldwide food assistance. Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports.

Amy Mayer/IPR

The United States is the world’s leading corn producer and exporter, supporting the increasing demand for meat in China, India and other countries with growing middle classes.  Those countries import livestock feed made from Midwestern grain. But as Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports with Harvest Public Media, feeding the world will take more than shipping protein overseas. 

Amy Mayer/IPR

With the election over, lawmakers now return to Washington for the final weeks of the 112th Congress. Their schedule is packed, but House majority leader Eric Cantor has said addressing the now expired Farm Bill is on the agenda. With Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports that it’s not just farmers facing the challenge of planning for an unknown future.

Amy Mayer

Nearly one-third of Story County voters requested ballots for early voting. But as Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports, many people remain loyal to in-person voting on Election Day.

courtesy photo

When Congress recessed for the election season without passing a new farm bill, many observers thought farmers would demand explanations as campaign trails blazed through small towns. In conjunction with Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer has this look at how the farm bill is playing on the stump.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here in the United States, the corn harvest is nearly complete. It was earlier and much smaller than in recent years, which means stockpiles are lower and prices will likely be higher. Now, while this summer's drought is largely to blame, the dry weather did offer perfect conditions to test drought-resistant corn. As Iowa Public Radio's Amy Mayer reports, seed companies and farmers are now crunching the yield numbers to see what these new varieties could mean in coming years.

Cover Crops Use Expanding

Oct 12, 2012
Amy Mayer

While many farmers were bringing in this year’s harvest, they also were planting.  Cover crops—like oats and winter rye—are becoming more popular, despite the time and expense involved in growing green fields that won’t ever make money—directly.  Together with Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer explains why.

Amy Mayer/Iowa Public Radio

After the dry summer, this harvest offers a good look at what drought resistant corn can do. In conjunction with Harvest Public Media, Iowa Public Radio’s Amy Mayer reports the big companies may soon be touting their results, but farmers may not rush to plant drought resistant seed next year. 

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