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.

courtesy of Christopher Gannon/ISU

Farmers and landowners enrolling acres in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have a new practice available to them.

Areas of native grasses and flowers, called prairie strips, have proven helpful in keeping soil in place, preventing nutrients from washing away and increasing the presence of birds and bees.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The first phase of a new trade agreement between the United States and China is scheduled for a White House signing ceremony Wednesday, and many in the agriculture community are hoping the deal will bring some relief to the farm economy.

The Phase One agreement will begin to resolve the nearly two year exchange of tariffs the two countries have levied on each other’s goods—the United States in an attempt, the Trump administration says, to pressure China to reform some of its trade policies and China in retaliation.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

A much-anticipated update to the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement is one step closer to implementation.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, voted 25-3 to approve the United States Mexico Canada Agreement. Two Republicans and one Democrat cast the "no" votes.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

People are eating a lot of meat, both in the U.S. and around the world, and that could be good news for the cattle sector in 2020. Things are looking up for pork, too.

courtesy DMARC

Food pantry use is up in many Midwest communities, despite a reasonably strong economy and low unemployment rate. There can be several reasons for the increased need for free food.

“What we’re seeing statewide is that we have pretty low wages in Iowa,” says Natalie Veldhouse, a research associate with the Iowa Policy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit. “We have people who are working full-time who might not be able to make ends meet and people who are piecing together multiple part-time jobs, sometimes without benefits.”

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Congress has reached a deal to keep the federal government open, pending a final vote in the Senate that’s expected this week. The spending bill also addresses many additional provisions, including the extension of some tax credits that had lapsed.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, worked late into the night Monday to Tuesday finalizing a deal on the so-called tax extenders.

courtesy City of Ames

Usually the city of Ames generates between 40 and 45 percent of its electricity from what’s called “refused derived fuel.” Or, more simply, it generates power from trash.

But that system has been largely off line in recent weeks as upgrades to the boiler have been delayed. Garbage is being diverted to the Boone County Landfill (Story County doesn’t have one), but the waste-to-energy process is slated to be back to normal next week.

Don Kom, director of electric services for Ames, says trash has changed during the 40-plus years the system has been in use.

Amy Mayer / IPR

On a side street near the Des Moines Water Works, a tall fence surrounds three garden plots. Geese fly overhead while trucks drive past a sign between the road and the fence. It says: “Industrial Development Land For Sale, Contact City of Des Moines.”

Until recently, the city rented the land for growing vegetables, but now it’s been rezoned and put up for sale.

Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed three changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) this year. They affect the employment requirements for adults without dependents who are able to work, whether participation in certain other programs automatically qualifies a person for SNAP and, most recently, how the standard utility deduction is taken in calculating a household’s income.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has paid out a record $4.24 billion in claims for acres farmers couldn’t plant this year.

The “prevented planting” provision allows farmers to file a crop insurance claim when weather conditions leave fields unfit for a crop. Heavy spring rains and flooding left some Midwest farm ground too wet for seeds and equipment during the planting window, meaning farmers couldn’t put in the corn or soybeans they’d intended for those acres. 

Amy Mayer / IPR file

As the closure of the comment period on an Environmental Protection Agency rule regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) approaches at the end of the month, farm state lawmakers and biofuels advocates continue their push for a deal they say the president promised them.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The last cellulosic ethanol plant making biofuel from corn plant residue is downsizing.

POET-DSM’s Project Liberty in Emmetsburg, Iowa, came online in 2014. On Tuesday the joint venture between POET and DSM North America announced it’s scaling back from commercial production of the advanced biofuel to a research and development mission focused on exporting its technology.

Amy Mayer / IPR

During 2019, the curveballs thrown at farmers began with the partial government shutdown in January, when some U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies were closed. Spring brought a storm system—called a bomb cyclone—that dumped rain on top of frozen fields unable to make use of it, kicking off weeks of flooding exacerbated by additional precipitation. Planting ran later than usual and some farmers never got a cash crop into certain saturated fields.

By high summer, parts of the Corn Belt experienced drought conditions and some farmers were still harvesting corn and soybeans after the first snow fell in autumn.

Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is laying out its plan for hemp production, 10 months after the 2018 farm bill paved the way for farmers to grow it. 

The new federal program, which will be published Thursday in the Federal Register, is an “interim final rule” open to public comment. It would require farmers to secure a license from the USDA or their state if they want to grow hemp. 

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The comment period is open on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed fix to the ethanol demand it has tinkered with in recent months.

For weeks, the ethanol industry has pressed the federal government to formally account for gallons it exempted small refineries from blending when the EPA approved 31 small refinery waivers.

Amy Mayer / IPR

The State Emergency Operations Center in Johnston, Iowa, has sloped auditorium-style seating and plenty of outlets to keep laptops and cell phones charged. This is where officials gather during and immediately after tornadoes and massive flooding.

It’s the center for crisis control. 

Amy Mayer / IPR

The founder of a global vegetable seed company will receive the 2019 World Food Prize in a ceremony Thursday at the Iowa State Capitol.

courtesy of Red Fern Farm

It may be harvest season, but Iowa’s chestnut trees don’t have much to offer after spending 10 consecutive months in soil with too much moisture.

Rains began saturating soils in September 2018, an abrupt hard freeze in November locked in the moisture, spring brought repeated freeze-thaw cycles and then more rain.  

Tom Wahl of Red Fern Farm in Louisa County has about a thousand chestnut trees and usually they produce a lucrative crop on his diverse farm.  

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The United States will not implement increases to tariffs on Chinese goods that were scheduled for Oct. 15. This slight easing of trade tensions follows productive meetings in Washington last week that President Donald Trump says led to a tentative trade deal.

courtesy Mark Gleason

By design, organic agriculture limits the products that can be applied to crops to kill pests and weeds, so farmers often look for other strategies to reduce risk.

Short, fabric-covered tunnels could be the solution for certain organic crops. Researchers at Iowa State University have developed mid-sized mesh-covered tunnels, dubbed “mesotunnels,” that let sunlight and rain in, but keep many bugs out.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Japan’s Parliament is convening this month and will likely take up a new trade deal with the United States. If enacted, the agreement might bring some good news to farmers, but no one really knows. 

Official language of the deal has not yet been made public, though the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said it would increase access to the Japanese market for U.S. wheat, pork, and beef.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Travel back just two short months to a quintessential scene: it’s a farm so close to suburban sprawl you can practically see the retail developments from the gravel road. A large American flag hangs from the door of a big, white barn. Classic red tractors surround an area filled with folding chairs as music is piped in and volunteers in Amy for America T-shirts work the crowd with clipboards in hand.

This is LaVon and Craig Griffieon’s family farm in Ankeny and on this day it’s the site of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign event announcing her proposals for agriculture.


Amy Mayer / IPR file

Small farmers and their allies are responding to comments the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture made this week that suggested only big farms are likely to survive.

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Sonny Perdue told a gathering of dairy farmers in Wisconsin. He added that even 100 cows might not be enough to turn a profit. The comments come at a time when dairy farmers across the country, but especially in the upper Midwest, are struggling.

University of Illinois agriculture policy professor Jonathan Coppess found the comment “shocking.”

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

On a hot September day, five Japanese men arrived at Rod Pierce’s central Iowa farm. They represented feed mills and livestock cooperatives, and were there to see the corn they may eventually buy. 

Pierce invited them to walk among his rows of corn, climb into the cab of an 8-head combine and poke their heads into one his empty grain storage bins. 

Pierce grows mostly corn on his 1,700 acres and he knows about one-fifth of the corn grown in the United States gets exported. Japan’s second only to Mexico as a customer of U.S. corn. 

Amy Mayer / IPR

Emergency planners and agriculture officials have spent this week testing their preparedness for a deadly pig disease outbreak.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Iowa’s ethanol producers and farmers may soon hear some positive news after weeks of turmoil, according to Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who met with White House, Agriculture Department and Environmental Protection Agency officials last week.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The national average price for corn this season is back to $3.60 a bushel, about where it’s been most of this year except for an early-season spike ($4.16 in July) before the size and quality of the crop was known. 

That’s not great news for corn growers, and for the ethanol part of the market, the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates are even worse.

courtesy Iowa DOT

A three-year-long construction project to improve safety at the U.S. 30 - Interstate 35 interchange in Ames is nearly complete.

courtesy Steve Kenkel / www.hybridcorncollector.com

Shelby County farmer Steve Kenkel has lived on a century farm his entire life, growing corn and soybeans today with all the trappings of modern farming.

But in three buildings on his property he has amassed a collection of equipment, advertising signs and seed corn sacks that document the transition from traditional hand or horse-drawn tools through the arrival of hybrid seed corn and into the mid-20th century’s gas or diesel-powered tractors. His Hybrid Corn Pioneers Museum showcases his 20 years of collecting.

Amy Mayer / Iowa Public Radio

The United States and Canada must ratify an agreement that Mexico has already approved to put into place a trade deal the three countries negotiated to update and replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

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