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.

Midwestern fish farmers grow a variety of species, such as tilapia, salmon, barramundi and shrimp, all of which require a high-protein diet. The region grows copious amounts of soybeans, which have a lot of protein, but these two facts have yet to converge.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris of California campaigned in Iowa on the 4th of July.

Harris greeted hundreds of Iowans on a hot afternoon in the yard of a private home in Indianola. Farm fields lent a backdrop to the senator’s criticism of the current administration’s trade policy.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

The annual Des Moines Arts Festival returns this weekend with a new attraction.

"Where Agriculture Meets Art" will display images of female farmers that Marji Guyler-Alaniz photographed as part of her FarmHer project.

FarmHer began as a way to share the untold female stories of agriculture, Guyler-Analiz said during an interview outside a recent event she hosted in downtown Des Moines.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Wearing a baseball cap from the 401st Bomb Group, World War II veteran James Sassaman sat in the shadow of a refurbished B-17 bomber and remembered what it was like to fly over Europe as a navigator in 1944.

“Every mission you’d be scared,” he said. “You’d always get a few holes in your airplane from being shot at.”

Amy Mayer / IPR

On top of trade disputes, a wet spring and late planting, many soybean farmers face yet another hurdle: the thistle caterpillar.

Although it becomes the painted lady butterfly, which can bring a fluttering swath of color to backyards and gardens, this caterpillar can be a real pest in soybean fields..

Amy Mayer / IPR

A bubble of faith burst for a church in Ames this week after its gay pride flag was ripped down and burned.

The welcoming and affirming Ames United Church of Christ, located downtown, existed in a “happy bubble,” says senior minister Eileen Gebbie. And even after Adolfo Martinez allegedly destroyed the church’s gay pride flag in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, Gebbie wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Katie Peikes / IPR

Early, heavy and, in some areas, nearly relentless rains have led to a late planting season across much of the central United States, especially for corn.

Flooded fields can stymie planting — even if the rain lets up for a couple of days — because the ground is too wet and soft for heavy equipment. Even where farmers were able to plant, heavy rain sometimes required another round of seeds after the first ones were swamped.

Even in fields that farmers managed to plant, cool temperatures and persistant rain are delaying crop progress.
Amy Mayer / IPR

Many Iowa farmers are behind in planting their corn and soybeans this year, and while the wet spring weather is the primary reason, other factors will play into critical decisions they will soon have to make.

Much of the corn already in the ground has been pummeled with rain and some of it may need to be replanted. Moving into June, farmers will be past the first crop insurance deadline for planting corn, meaning if they ultimately make a claim on this year’s crop, those acres would suffer a small penalty for going in late.

Katie Peikes / IPR file photo

The U.S. Senate has reportedly reached a deal with the White House on a long-delayed disaster aid bill, according to Politico. 

Earlier Thursday, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she wanted help to reach victims of natural disasters, some of whom have needed it for more than a year.

Iowans recovering from flooding and other survivors of natural disasters across the country are waiting for the federal assistance they are eligible for.

U.S farmers have long depended on foreign buyers for some of their corn, soybeans, pork and other products. And federal officials have used some agricultural commodities as tools of diplomacy for decades.

But as the Trump administration has pursued hard-line moves with major trading partners, especially China, farmers have found themselves with huge surpluses — and on the receiving end of government aid.

Modern farming became permanently entwined with both politics and export markets in the mid-20th century, says Mount Royal University historian Joe Anderson.

courtesy of EPA

More than 2 million people work in or near agriculture fields in the U.S. that are treated with pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency has strict policies about what those workers need to know about pesticide risks, when they can be in those fields and what they should do if they come into contact with the chemicals.

“EPA sets particular criteria of what needs to be included in a training,” said Betsy Buffington, a program specialist in the Pesticide Safety Education Program at Iowa State University.

“So if an instance occurs, they can look back and know that they're doing it correctly.”

Yet even with recent updates to the decades-old Agricultural Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the EPA has little ability to monitor how well the regulation is working, and no way to determine how frequently agricultural pesticides drift onto, or otherwise make contact with, workers.

courtesy of Meyer Agri-Air

On July 28, 2017, a central Iowa emergency dispatcher received a 911 call from a man in a corn field.

“I had workers that were detasseling,” said the caller, referring to the job of manually pulling the tops off standing corn stalks. “Some may have gotten sprayed by a plane.”

The caller said 10 or 12 people reported sore throats or vomiting. They’d seen a plane applying pesticides to the adjacent soybean field and it seemed some of the chemicals had drifted toward the corn and onto the workers.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is back in Iowa and hoping her policy proposals will resonate across the purple landscape.

AMY MAYER/IPR FILE PHOTO

Now that Congress has returned to Capitol Hill, Iowa’s senior senator is resuming two ongoing policy efforts.

Renewable fuels

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says he’s submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency in support of the plan to make the sale of E-15 legal throughout the year. E-15 contains more ethanol than the widely-available E-10 blend, but federal rules have restricted the sale of E-15 at certain times of the year.

Esther Honig/Harvest Public Media

Among the bills passed by the legislature this session and now awaiting the governor’s signature is one allowing farmers to grow industrial hemp.

It would open up that crop to cultivation for the first time in almost 50 years. Industrial hemp once was used for clothing, rope and a wide variety of other products, but in 1970 it was lumped in with its cousin marijuana and classified as a controlled substance. That made it illegal to grow nationwide.

Under the 2018 farm bill, it’s now legal for individual states to choose to allow.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Iowa’s senior senator met with the U.S. secretary of energy this week to better understand details around how small oil refineries secure waivers exempting them from the national biofuels law.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said Rick Perry clarified for him that the Department of Energy can offer input, but it’s the Environmental Protection Agency that grants the waivers. Grassley said E.P.A. Administrator Andrew Wheeler is not obligated to do what the energy department recommends.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2017 Census of Agriculture data show the amount of land in the largest federal conservation programs has decreased nationwide and in many Midwest and Plains states.

But that doesn’t mean farmers are ignoring soil health, nutrient runoff or erosion problems.

Amy Mayer / IPR file

Fears of a highly contagious and deadly pig disease have prompted officials to cancel the World Pork Expo in Iowa this June.

African swine fever has been spreading through China since August, and also is present in Europe and its namesake continent.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR 89.3

Farmers along the Missouri River and its tributaries are still assessing damage from recent flooding.

But beyond the farms in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas, there’s visible evidence that the impacts are far-reaching and long-lasting — closed interstates and rerouted trains — key cogs in  a global agriculture economy.

Abi Skipp

Spring is officially here, but this winter’s bitter cold and heavy snow may have caused damage to trees and shrubs. Desperate for food, deer, rabbits, and voles may have eaten plants they usually leave alone.

In this "horticulture day" edition of Talk of Iowa, guest host Amy Mayer talks with horticulture experts about types of damage from animals, the impact of deep snow and ice on your garden and lawn, and what to monitor as spring unfolds.

John Pemble / IPR file

Iowa’s senior U.S. senator is looking for a way to make life-saving medication more affordable to people.

Republican Chuck Grassley chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, which is holding the second in a series of hearings Tuesday to examine why prescription drug prices are so high.

It takes time and money to make medications like insulin, Grassley says, but he thinks the system seems “somewhat out of balance.”

“Prices for some medications, like insulin, have skyrocketed even though nothing about them has changed in many, many decades,” he says.

Iowa DOT

After being closed by a blizzard for more than 24 hours, the northbound lanes of I-35 between Ames and the Minnesota border reopened at 5pm Monday.  The southbound lanes reopened at noon Monday.  I-35 had been closed all the way north to Owatonna, Minnesota, about 40 miles north of the border.

Even with the roadway open, officials are warning the conditions that forced the closing Sunday will continue to cause traffic headaches.

Amy Mayer / IPR

At Hummel’s Nissan in Des Moines, Kevin Caldwell sells the all-electric Leaf. Driving one is basically the same as driving a typical gasoline or gas-electric hybrid car, he said, except for a few new features like the semi-autonomous hands-free option. And the fact that you plug it in rather than pumping gas into it.

About a quarter to a third of Caldwell’s Leaf customers are farmers, some of whom grow corn for ethanol.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

After more than 20 years, an early tool of genetic engineering in crops is doing more than just killing pests. It’s providing environmental benefits, too, according to a new study in the journal Biological Control.

courtesy DMARC

Beginning this week, agencies that help get food to hungry Iowans are expanding their services.

The Des Moines area’s DMARC Mobile Food Pantry will add four more stops to its schedule, which will provide a healthy, three-day supply of food to some people who haven’t been able to get it from other food pantry locations.

Luke Elzinga, DMARC’s communications manager, says the additional stops mean the mobile pantry will reach more of the people the agency knows are in need.

Clay Masters/IPR file

Rural Iowa communities might be missing out on federal dollars that could help with economic development.

3rd District Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne says getting the money to communities that need it is one of her priorities during her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s co-sponsored a bill to streamline the federal grant-making process.

"What it will allow us to do is make sure that our local communities are tapping into those billions of dollars that, quite honestly, we’re leaving on the table," Axne says.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In January 2018, a handful of farmers at a major Iowa pork industry gathering attended a session on the threat of foreign animal diseases. A year later, several dozen people showed up, spurred by the march of African swine fever across China.

“This risk of African swine fever is real,” veterinarian Craig Rowles told the crowd at the Iowa Pork Congress. “And as producers, we need to be very cognizant of that.”

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

The long tentacles of the partial federal government shutdown are reaching especially deep into food and agriculture. Here’s an update on some of the impacts in the fourth week of the longest shutdown in history.

Farm Service Agency offices

John Pemble/IPR file photo

The federal government is in the third week of a partial shutdown that is affecting a wide range of programs and services, from the National Wildlife Refuge system and national parks to funding intended to help farmers hurt by the 2018 trade war.

USDA.gov

The ongoing partial shutdown of the federal government, now into its third week, is reaching ever deeper into the lives of people far from the Washington, D.C. epicenter.

Beyond the hundreds of thousands of employees who are either working without pay or furloughed indefinitely, the people those employees would have been working with and for are now feeling the sting of closed offices, delayed payments and missing services.

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