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. 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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Bin technology helps protect grain, farmers

Scott Haugan's Marshalltown company HOWGAN SCC offers grain mangaers tools to monitor conditions inside storage bins.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Across the rural Midwest, landscapes are dotted with tall, cylindrical storage containers for grain. Commercial grain elevators and on-farm bins hold commodity crops so they can be sold throughout the year. With yields growing and prices fluctuating, stored corn or soybeans can be as good as money in the bank.  But only if the quality is maintained.

That’s something Kevin Larson’s been monitoring during more than 40 years of farming in Story County. When he started with his dad, he says everyone stored corn, still on the cob, in their own cribs.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri August 2, 2013

Recess prolongs farm bill delay

The lack of federal policy, farmers say, makes planning their fields for next year difficult. These fields in Guthrie County were photographed in early June.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Congress is set to leave town for its summer recess Aug. 2 without passing a new farm bill. The current farm bill extension expires just weeks after lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington and that’s leaving some farmers feeling stymied about planning.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon July 22, 2013

Prairie plants help nourish farmland

Southwest Iowa cattleman Seth Watkins revels in the tall grasses and clear ponds on his pastureland. He says prairie helps his cattle, his business, the soil and the water.
Amy Mayer/IPR

The world’s soil is in trouble, even in the fertile Midwest.  Some experts warn that if degradation continues unchecked, topsoil could be gone in 60 years—with implications for agriculture and the broader environment.

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Business
3:04 am
Thu June 27, 2013

Agriculture's Waning Influence In Washington Hinders Farmers

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 4:20 am

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue June 25, 2013

Starting a farm, with an immigrant twist

Air Philavanh bought an 11-acre farm in Milo, Iowa after living in the Midwest for about 30 years. He came to this country as a refugee from Laos in his early 20s.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Air Philavanh is a new farmer in central Iowa who came to this country from Laos as a refugee more than 30 years ago. Today, he’s living on an 11-acre farm in Milo, Iowa about an hour from Des Moines. He bought the place three years ago and he’s built a brand-new shelter for his four beef calves off the end of a decrepit old barn. He’s made many other improvements, too, as he gets his farm up and running. In addition to the cattle, he hopes to add ducks. It’s a far cry from his day job with Citigroup—and not what he initially imagined for himself.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:05 am
Thu June 13, 2013

My Farm Roots: The 1980s farm crisis still resonates for fifth-generation Iowa farmer

Fifth-generation Iowa farmer Mark Kenney savors the lessons he learned from the 1980s farm crisis.
Amy Mayer/IPR

I met Mark Kenney on his family’s farm in Nevada, Iowa, when I was working on a story about farmer taxes. He turned out to be perfect for that—a farmer with a keen interest in spreadsheets.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
2:28 pm
Thu May 30, 2013

Ames High students document sustainability

Berry Patch farm manager Lee Matteson poses while Douglas Gayeton helps Ames High junior Erin Cochran shoot a series of photos.
Amy Mayer/IPR

Inside a high tunnel at Berry Patch farm near Nevada, Iowa, strawberry baskets hang overhead and tomato plants stand tall already laden with fruit. Farm manager Lee Matteson picks several zucchini. Then, he stands there, holding the fresh squash while Will Weber, a sophomore environmental science student from Ames High School, takes a series of photographs.  Beside Weber, and holding another impressive-looking camera, Douglas Gayeton also takes pictures—and issues advice and suggestions to Weber.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Fri May 24, 2013

Refugees find home on the farm

Lutheran Services of Iowa farm assistant Donna Wilterdink gives transplants to Cubwa Rajabu, who is cultivating a plot at Global Greens Farm.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue May 7, 2013

Conservation acres harder to come by

Iowa farmer John Berdo stands atop one of the terraces that helps control water flow on his crop fields. Terraces are one of many conservation measures Berdo employs.
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.

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The Salt
12:54 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

Pork Producers Root Out Market Niche With Berkshire Pigs

Berkshire pigs on Happy Hula Farm, a member of the Eden Farms collective.
Amy Mayer Iowa Public Radio

Originally published on Mon April 29, 2013 2:08 pm

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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 23, 2013

This little piggy has a niche market

These Berkshire pigs move between their feeding and water troughs, at the open end of their hoop house on Randy Hilleman’s farm in State Center, Iowa.
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.”

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon April 15, 2013

New cages and carton labels could come to egg industry

At Mark Tjelmeland’s farm near McCallsburg, this henhouse opens up to three acres of pasture for the chickens.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Tue April 2, 2013

Taxing complications for farmers

From his farm’s headquarters in Nevada, Iowa, Mark Kenney can see his childhood home and farm. Not pictured, but also within sight, is the original piece of farmland Kenney’s great-great grandfather bought, which is still part of the family farm.
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.

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Agriculture and Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed March 6, 2013

Farmers Face Unknowns As Healthcare Overhaul Approaches

Marilyn Andersen of Story City feeds her angora goats, whose wool she spins and weaves. Andersen will soon be buying individual health insurance.
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.”

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Wed February 20, 2013

Science of the Seed part 3

Carefully organized ears of corn wait to be hulled at the DuPont Pioneer Dallas Center Corn Research Center.
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.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Science of the Seed Part 1

Corn plants grow in a roof-top greenhouse at Monsanto's Chesterfield Village Research Facility.
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?

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon January 28, 2013

Poultry rule update sparks controversy

Retired USDA chicken inspector Phyllis McKelvey worked with Change.org and Whistleblower.org to gather signatures on a petition opposing the proposed new poultry slaughter rule. She delivered over 177,000 signatures to the USDA office in Washington.
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.

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
1:56 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

New food safety rules apply to bulk grains

At DFS Animal Nutrition, Leland McKinney says quality and safety are inextricably linked.
Amy Mayer/IPR

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

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
1:46 pm
Thu December 6, 2012

Cellulosic ethanol is coming, but future is uncertain

DuPont Industrial BioSciences President Jim Collins speaks to supporters at the site of the company's new cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada.
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. 

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Temple Grandin
3:59 pm
Wed December 5, 2012

Animal welfare expert addresses Farm Bureau

Animal welfare expert Temple Grandin addresses the Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting.
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. 

Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
4:06 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

Midwest meals reach millions

People of all ages, from as young as 5 years old, filled Hy-Vee Hall to prepare meal packages that are provided to food banks in Des Moines, the United States and around the world.
courtesy of Meals from the Heartland

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

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
12:54 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

How Midwest farmers help feed the world

Boone County farmer Greg Rinehart uses a high tunnel for vegetables he sells locally. He also grows row crops.
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. 

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Agriculture/Harvest Public Media
5:00 am
Mon November 12, 2012

Farm bill is more than subsidies and food stamps

Iowa State University researcher Kenny McCabe tends to tomatoes and salvia growing in bio-renewable pots in a greenhouse in Ames.
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.

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In-person voting
4:03 pm
Tue November 6, 2012

In-person voting still has appeal

The Heartland Baptist Church in Ames is where Chris Johnson cast his ballot on Election Day.
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.

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Farm bill and the elections
1:38 pm
Fri October 26, 2012

Why Campaigns Aren't Focusing on the Farm Bill

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks with Greene County farmer Mike Holden at a campaign event for Vilsack's wife, Christie, the Democratic candidate in the 4th Congressional District.
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.

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NPR Story
3:39 am
Wed October 17, 2012

Farmers Cautious Of Drought-Resistant Seeds

Originally published on Wed October 17, 2012 7:31 am

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.

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Cover Crops
2:18 pm
Fri October 12, 2012

Cover Crops Use Expanding

Jeff Longnecker's cows will graze next spring on rye planted now.
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.

Drought Resistant Corn Yields
8:30 am
Thu October 4, 2012

Drought Resistant Corn Yields

Syngenta's drought resistant corn just before harvest in Maxwell, IA.
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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