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. 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.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Sitting on a deck at the home of a colleague in Ames, Harvard University biology professor Scott Edwards identifies robins by their call and says the particular tone suggests something is amiss—perhaps a mother bird protecting her little ones.

Edwards, who studies birds and evolution, is bicycling across the country from east to west and marking his passage between regions by the birds he encounters.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Rural communities that have not yet seen coronavirus outbreaks could be very susceptible to one. That’s according to Iowa State University sociologist David Peters, who modified an existing public health tool to see how susceptible different size communities are to COVID-19.

BRIAN SEIFFERLEIN / Harvest Public Media file photo

A new analysis of drinking water systems shows communities in five Midwest states have legal but potentially worrying levels of nitrates. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found nitrate levels in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, and Oklahoma are trending up.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Several Iowa leaders are asking the federal government to add turkey farms to the types of agricultural businesses that get relief from coronavirus-related losses. The industry was not mentioned in the CARES Act nor in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s payment program for farm businesses.

“There was no money made available for turkeys,” says Ron Kardel, a turkey farmer in Walcott and chair of the National Turkey Federation.

Follow the latest Iowa news in our Daily Digest, a liveblog where you can catch up on the headlines in five minutes and find more reporting from our news team about the stories you care about. 

evren_photos /

The global pandemic has impacted the food supply in numerous ways and that has led to fluctuations in the prices of some common items. Consider humble ground beef, the stuff of hamburgers, meatballs, chili and pasta sauce. The fattier it is, the lower the price. Usually.

Randy Feenstra Facebook page

Iowa State Sen. Randy Feenstra won the Republican nomination for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District on Tuesday, beating nine-term incumbent Congressman Steve King in a five-way primary. He’ll face Democrat J.D. Scholten in November. Scholten ran a close race against King in 2018.

Feenstra took about 46 percent of the primary vote to King’s 36. Jeremy Taylor, Bret Richards and Steve Reeder, the other three GOP challengers, split about 18 percent.

Natalie Krebs / IPR

Large gatherings are allowed to resume starting this week. There's a primary on Tuesday, and the Iowa Legislature is returning to session Wednesday. As the state grapples with reopening, protests over the death of George Floyd have turned violent in Des Moines. 

Continue to follow the latest Iowa news here for the week of May 31-June 6.

courtesy of Hy-Vee

This pandemic spring has changed some pathways of getting food to hungry people, but there’s still plenty being donated and distributed to meet the increased need.

West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee, with stores in eight states, often makes donations to food banks, says Christina Gayman, director of public relations. But right now, many of its suppliers have approached the chain for help distributing their surplus. 

Amy Mayer / IPR file

A new agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes Iowa the seventh state where some small meat lockers can sell products in other states.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

With people driving less because of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, demand for ethanol has plummeted and dozens of plants across the country are sitting idle. 

Now Congress is at work on another pandemic relief package. The House last week passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which includes payments to ethanol producers. They didn’t get any funds from the CARES Act, which was approved in March.

Madeleine King / IPR File

In many Iowa counties, businesses and organizations are now deciding when and how to reopen. Summer festivals and events organizations are making decisions around whether or how they will operate, and Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced that she is "shifting focus" of Iowa's coronavirus response.

Follow the latest Iowa coronavirus news here, where we're posting news updates from Gov. Kim Reynolds, other state agencies, counties and businesses for the week of May 17-May 23.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Pork processing fell nearly 40 percent following temporary closures at meatpacking plants across the Midwest last month. That’s created a backlog of market-ready hogs, though the scope of the problem isn’t as dramatic as some had feared.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Walk into a supermarket and you might find that you can only buy a few packages of fresh chicken, beef or pork.

Costco, Hy-Vee and other grocery stores blame the move on industrywide shortages brought on by the closing of some meat-packing plants because workers became infected with COVID-19.

The temporary shut downs have caused a hiccup in the supply chain: last week, processing of cattle and hogs plunged nearly 40 percent.

But meat processing was at an all-time high before the pandemic and a lot of that was targeted for export. Overseas demand has plummeted.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The ongoing pandemic has dealt another blow to the struggling ethanol industry. ADM, one of the country’s major grain companies and a big ethanol producer, will idle dry mills in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Columbus, Nebraska. 

The company informed the 180 people who work at the two locations Thursday that they will be furloughed.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Farmers who grow many different types of crops and raise livestock will receive direct payments from the United States Department of Agriculture through $16 billion of CARES Act relief money.

USDA has announced it will also spend $3 billion to purchase fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat and other food, which it will then distribute to those in need through food banks and other community groups. 

courtesy Nick Torkelson

As meatpacking plants across the country have temporarily closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks, consumers might be seeing less meat on the shelves at the grocery, but farmers are dealing with animals they can’t sell.

Meatpacking plants slaughter livestock and send packaged meat into wholesale and retail channels. Companies spent the better part of the 20th century mechanizing every possible aspect of the process, to maximize efficiency. 

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Many of the public health labs determining whether people have COVID-19 have become at least overworked or, at worst, overwhelmed. Some of the country’s animal disease labs have stepped in to help.

Rodger Main, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at Iowa State University, says early in the COVID-19 outbreak, he and leaders from the University of Iowa’s State Hygienic Lab got on the phone to discuss how they could collaborate.

courtesy John Deere

A major manufacturer of agricultural and construction equipment has begun producing face shields for healthcare workers.

John Deere’s Moline, Illinois, factory plans to make 225,000 shields in the first effort, and if materials are available and the need continues, it could make more.

Brad Russmann, the factory manager in Moline, says they’re using an open-source design from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, that meets the needs of the medical community. He says the company’s diverse expertise and commitment to the project made for a quick turnaround.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

One of the country’s largest ethanol producers has idled three plants and postponed the opening of a fourth. 

POET posted a statement on its website saying bioprocessing at the locations in Chancellor, South Dakota and in Coon Rapids and Ashton, Iowa has stopped. Another plant in Shelbyville, Indiana was on track to open this spring but that is now on hold.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Long before the world became aware of the novel coronavirus that now has most people in the United States staying home, the pork industry was watching with fear as a different virus decimated the pig population in China.

African swine fever does not infect or harm humans, but it is deadly to pigs and since August 2018, estimates are that it has cut China’s swine herd in half. It has spread to other countries in Asia and is also infecting pigs in several European countries.

Christopher Gannon / courtesy of ISU

Architecture students at Iowa State University are using design and fabrication skills honed in the Computation and Construction Lab to support healthcare workers in Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the campus is quiet as classes are on-line and faculty and staff are expected to work from home. But a handful of undergraduates has permission to work in staggered shifts to create face shields. They responded to an invitation from assistant professor of architecture Shelby Doyle.

Kyler Zeleny / for Harvest Public Media

On a still November day, Patrick O’Neal, the burn coordinator at Kansas State University’s Konza Prairie Biological Station near Manhattan, Kansas, convenes a meeting about a planned fire.

“The goal today is to burn about 52 acres,” he says, pointing out the specific sections on a map.

The clear blue sky and minimal wind provide inviting conditions. A short time later, the fire crew arrives at the first spot, and members pull on firefighter coats and helmets.

Madeleine King / IPR File

Thousands of Iowans are finding themselves out of work as the state works to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus in Iowa. Here's what we know about what utilities and the state are doing to limit the impact on families. 

courtesy Collin Reichert

Two dozen Iowans including a teacher from Ames are among more than 1,600 U.S. residents who have signed a spreadsheet indicating they are unable to get home from Peru because of COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

With grilling season coming, meat eaters in the United States may be treated to slightly lower prices.

Many factors contribute to the price consumers pay for a pound of ground beef at the grocery store, but swirling market forces typically don’t have a quick impact on them.

Still, Iowa State University livestock economist Lee Schulz says right now farmers and ranchers are producing a lot of beef and the global market has some good deals on things like hamburger.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The federal government has several potential options for alleviating economic consequences of the novel coronavirus. President Donald Trump suggested at a press conference Monday he would soon announce relief for hourly-wage workers and possibly a payroll tax cut.

Amy Mayer / IPR

After the day’s meals are done on a recent Tuesday, Gilbert Community Schools director of food service Deb Purcell shuffles through a stack of papers. Gilbert, a town north of Ames in central Iowa, serves about 1400-1600 meals a day. 

“This is what I do, planning for a week,” Purcell says pointing to columns on a page. “And there's actually seven pages minimum that go with each day.”

She’s counting cups of vegetables and documenting other details about every meal she’s served to comply with stringent federal rules. Her job could soon get easier.

Winters are warming faster than other seasons across much of the United States. While that may sound like a welcome change for those bundled in scarves and hats, it's causing a cascade of unpredictable impacts in communities across the country.

Temperatures continue to steadily rise around the globe, but that trend isn't spread evenly across the map or even the yearly calendar.

John Pemble / IPR

The head of the Iowa Democratic Party says the party is manually verifying the results of Monday night’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.