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 file photo

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee plans to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies in a September hearing.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a hot, July day in Boone County, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family's fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.

Before, corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape -- today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa -- most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.

Amy Mayer/IPR

On a trip to the Midwest last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered some advice to the next presidential administration. As the candidates tour the country and remain largely silent on agriculture and food issues, the Agriculture Department’s purview remains important.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it is expanding its support of new farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met with more than a dozen young, beginning and military veteran farmers at Iowa State University in Ames. He listened to their start-up stories and announced another $18 million in grants to help new farmers get going. Vilsack says he has tried to connect government policy with on-the-ground needs for farmers.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior US senator says the proposed mergers of major agricultural seed and chemical companies should get coordinated review from multiple federal agencies.

Chuck Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and often presses government agencies to make sure proposed mergers will not stymie competition. Right now, he says the Department of Justice is looking at the proposed Dow-DuPont merger. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing ChemChina's bid to take over Syngenta.

Growing up on their family farm in West Bend, Iowa, Haley Banwart and her brother Jack were like any other farm kids. They did chores, participated in 4-H and even raised cattle together.

"My brother and I have had the same amount of responsibilities," says Banwart, 22. "I can drive a tractor, I can bale square hay. But it was just expected that my brother would return home."

Her family never really discussed it. "It was always kind of the unwritten rule," she says. "My brother would go back and farm" — and she'd find another path.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is questioning Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's commitment to ethanol.

Grassley says Clinton has been exploring an energy policy in California that focuses on carbon reduction and relies upon a market strategy. That contrasts with the existing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which mandates production of ethanol and other bio-based fuels. The RFS has been a boon to Corn Belt farmers.

Amy Mayer/IPR

Growing up on a family farm in West Bend, Haley Banwart and her brother were like other farm kids.They did chores, participated in 4-H, and even raised cattle together.

"My brother and I have had the same amount of responsibilities. I can drive a tractor, I can bale square hay," Banwart says. "But it was just expected that my brother would return home."

 

She says they never discussed it, she just accepted that she’d find a different path.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack may be on Hillary Clinton's short-list for a vice presidential running mate. Several national media outlets have reported that while Vilsack has not confirmed he's being vetted, Clinton insiders say he's in the running.

Vilsack served as the Democratic governor of Iowa from 1999-2007. He's been in President Obama's cabinet since 2009.

Rick Fredericksen/IPR file photo

A new study supports planting perennial grasses on current cropland as a way to reduce nutrient loss from farm fields.

 

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

Iowa's senior senator is putting national security concerns near the top of his agenda.

Republican Chuck Grassley is introducing a bill to make the U.S. Department of Agriculture a permanent member of a committee that reviews foreign companies' efforts to buy U.S. businesses. 

Grassley says already a Chinese firm has a major foothold in the pork industry here and more food and agriculture mergers and acquisitions are pending.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other international trade deals may be to blame for some of the rift between the Republican presidential hopeful and his party's leaders, says Iowa's long-time Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

Grassley says Donald Trump's opposition to the 12-country trade deal resonates more with the rank-and-file.

"The populists within the Republican Party probably agree with Trump," Grassley says. "But establishment Republicans—that's one of the things that they find fault with Trump about."

FEMA (https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app)

Floods, tornadoes and other severe weather can cause chaos in a community. With the summer severe weather season under way, the Federal Emergency Management Agency hopes its smartphone app can help people prepare for and recover from all kinds of disasters.

The FEMA app lets you upload photos, find a shelter and check on conditions for up to five different zip codes. Brenda Gustafson, a public affairs specialist in the Kansas City FEMA office, says photos are authenticated before they are shared with first responders.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

A successful program in Michigan that helps hungry families buy more healthy food is expanding across the country.

This month, Iowa joins more than a dozen other states in offering Double Up Food Bucks. Although the programs vary a bit from state to state, the basic idea is the same: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) dollars are matched (usually up to a certain cap), giving the shopper more money to spend at farmers markets or other places where local fruits and vegetables are available.

Amy Mayer/IPR

When I walked onto the floor of the JBS Marshalltown Pork Plant, I expected the sensory assault to hit my nose first. But turns out it was my ears that first felt the most severe impact. The processing line is noisy. It's also chilly, to protect the meat. That also prevents the sort of noxious smell I had anticipated. Instead of an animal stench, my nose mostly registered cleaning products and a raw meat smell as if I just opened a package of pork chops in my own kitchen.

Amy Mayer/IPR

 

Peggy Fogle and her dog, Abe, walk among rows of aronia berry bushes on the family property outside Carlisle. Plants on the ends of rows are smaller from years of being nibbled by deer and rabbits. But on nearly nine acres, filling four separate fields, the bushes are reaching maturity, eight years after Fogle and her husband decided to put in their first ones.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

The proposed takeover of a major seed company by a Chinese government business is getting some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) chairs the Senate Judiciary committee and says he's looking at state-owned ChemChina's plans to buy the Swiss company Syngenta.

IPR Photo by Amy Mayer

Consumer demand, public health concerns and new federal rules all are driving the pork industry away from routine use of certain antibiotics. Booths at the World Pork Expo, a three-day event underway this week at the State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, reflect the move away from antibiotics.

A weathered wooden shed that holds wheelbarrows, hoes and other basic tools is the beacon of the Student Organic Farm, a two-acre swath within the larger horticultural research farm at Iowa State University.

On a warm spring evening, a half-dozen students gather here, put on work gloves and begin pulling up weeds from the perennial beds where chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sage are in various stages of growth.

"I didn't know how passionate I [would] become for physical work," says culinary science major Heidi Engelhardt.

Kristi Koser for Harvest Public Media

At the grocery store, processed foods like cereal, crackers and candy usually maintain the same price for a long time, and inch up only gradually. Economists call these prices "sticky" because they don't move much even as some of the commodities that go into them do.

Take corn, for example, which can be a major food player as a grain, a starch or a sweetener.  

Corn prices can fluctuate widely, so why don't products containing corn also see price changes? Why does your cereal pretty much cost $3 per box every week?

It's partly thanks to the futures market.

Photo by Amy Mayer

The path to normalized relations between the United States and Cuba made a stop in farm country Friday.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his Cuban counterpart, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, toured Aaron Lehman's corn and soybean farm in central Iowa. They talked about water, soil, and energy and compared strategies for managing hog manure, which has been a problem in Iowa.

 

Flickr/TimSackton

Expansion in the country’s beef cattle herd is bringing cheaper meat prices to the grocery store just in time for the summer grilling season, but those reduced prices might get some scrutiny on Capitol Hill. U.S.

Photo by Amy Mayer

A weathered wooden shed that holds wheelbarrows, hoes and other basic tools is the beacon of the Student Organic Farm, a two-acre swath within the Iowa State University Horticulture Research Farm. On a warm spring evening, a half-dozen students gather here, put on work gloves and begin pulling up weeds from the perennial beds where chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sage are in various stages of growth.

Photo by Luke Runyon/Harvest Public Media

The world’s three largest seed companies are in talks about possible mergers. That could result in a broader definition of what it means to be an agricultural business and would create a new landscape for farmers buying seeds, fertilizer, and even machinery.

"They’re selling the seed, the chemicals, the fertilizer," says Chad Hart, Extension economist and associate professor at Iowa State University. "We may even see some combination where we see some ag machinery companies merging with some seed companies or some fertilizer companies."

Photo by Amy Mayer

After several boom years while the rest of the economy struggled, farming is entering its third straight year on the bust side of the cycle. Corn, soybean and other commodity prices are low while expenses like seed, fertilizer and land remain stubbornly high.

So farmers managing the sophisticated businesses that Midwest crop farms have become are spending more time considering business school basics.

IPR file photo by Amy Mayer

Vermont's first-in-the-nation labeling law for foods containing genetically modified ingredients takes effect July 1, and there now appears to be some movement in the U.S. Senate to pass a law to prevent it.

Some food companies have already started to identify products that contain GMOs, in readiness for the Vermont law, but opponents of the requirement continue to press for a Congressional solution that would prevent every state from making its own rules.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate Agriculture committee will hold an oversight hearing this week to look at the Farm Credit System. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sits on the committee, says the hearing will examine concerns that the agency has strayed from its mission to lend money to rural Americans with little access to credit.

"There are some interests that have been expressed to us, outside this hearing, who would say that the Farm Credit System has gone beyond its goal and purpose of helping rural America and farming in particular," he said.

courtesy photo

As a country music singer, Liz Carlisle, who grew up in Montana, says she was interested in the poetry and philosophy of farming and rural life.

"I hadn't been involved in sustainable agriculture at all," she says, "I was a country singer. I think I shared a lot of values, but I didn't really know the language of sustainable agriculture and I wasn't, quite frankly, paying enough attention to economics or to science."

Austin Kirk/Flickr

You're about to start paying less for eggs at the grocery store because egg farms are recovering from last year's bird flu outbreak a bit faster than expected.

 

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."

Pages