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.

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.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

After a year that saw persistently low prices for many agricultural products — exacerbated by the retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. goods — farmers are eager for a recovery in 2019.

Pork producers have been working within the trade-war parameters since China imposed a hefty tariff in April. Northeast Iowa pig farmer Al Wulfkuhle said the sudden drop in Chinese demand for U.S. pork turned what had started as a promising year into a challenging one.

Inventorchris / Flickr

The arrest of a suspect in a 39-year-old murder case has police reminding fugitives that unsolved investigations are almost always ongoing. The Cedar Rapids Police have a man in custody accused of the 1979 killing of Michelle Martinko.

Chief Wayne Jerman says just because a case goes cold doesn’t mean it will remain that way.

“Police, law enforcement throughout the country are not going to stop,” he says. “Technology continues to evolve and we’re going to use it to our advantage in the pursuit of justice.”

Amy Mayer / IPR File Photo

Iowa’s junior senator is celebrating the release of a new rule defining what is considered a “water of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act.

The WOTUS rule dates to the Obama administration and has been held up in court because some people felt it would put too much land under federal oversight.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

The value of farmland in Iowa has dropped slightly this year, according to the Iowa State University Land Values Survey.

Wendong Zhang, an economics professor at ISU, collects information from realtors, lenders, appraisers and other people who monitor farm sales and transitions. He says the 0.8 percent decrease in farmland value compared to last year is partly still a correction from the record-high values of 2013. This is the fourth time in the past five years that land values have decreased.

Amy Mayer / IPR

In a lab at George Washington University, painted lady butterflies flutter in mesh houses. This is where assistant professor Arnault Martin and his research group use the new gene-editing technique CRISPR to unlock secrets about the colors and spots on the butterflies’ wings.

CRISPR has allowed them to isolate a precise gene that controls wing appearance, and they can shut it off at will.

Amy Mayer/IPR file / IPR

Iowa’s senior U.S. Senator is calling on President Donald Trump to appoint a new attorney general to replace former Iowa prosecutor Matt Whitaker. Whitaker became acting attorney general after the president forced out Jeff Sessions.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley says Whitaker’s controversial history is attracting scrutiny.

“We got an acting attorney general? Appoint somebody and all these questions about Whitaker would go away,” Grassley told reporters on Tuesday, “unless Whitaker was his nominee. Then, of course, they’d be enhanced a great deal.”

Amy Mayer / IPR

Farmers know every year they’re going to encounter surprises from things out of their control, like drought or pests.

This year, great growing conditions led to a bin-busting soybean harvest, but a tit-for-tat exchange of tariffs with China meant that country went from being a major buyer to virtually ignoring U.S. soybeans.

That’s caused prices to drop, leaving U.S. farmers and grain elevators struggling to store soybeans until prices or demand improves. Those factors threaten to undermine the soybean futures contract, and federal regulators have until Dec. 10 to review a proposed solution to the problem.

Iowa DOT

Travelers in central Iowa may face some short-term inconveniences where Interstate 35 meets U.S. 30 in Ames, but the new overpass currently under construction should ultimately make the interchange safer.

During several nights this month, the northbound lanes of I-35 have closed overnight as contractors placed beams over the road on new abutments. Soon, that work will finish and southbound travelers will face detours.

Amy Mayer / IPR

Farmers started forming co-ops nearly a century ago, primarily to get better prices for their crops. They pooled their resources, put up storage bins and gained leverage with buyers.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

When the new Congress convenes in January, the Democratic-controlled House could make big changes to the next farm bill. But farmers may have to wait a while for it.

Amy Mayer/IPR file photo

When former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey was tapped for a federal job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year, his old job was filled by his deputy secretary of agriculture, Mike Naig.

Last spring, Naig ran for the Republican nomination in a crowded primary but did not win outright and later secured the nomination in a convention vote. Naig faces two challengers.

Who are the candidates?

Amy Mayer / IPR

Michael McEnany always knew he wanted to be a farmer. Both of his grandfathers were, and he “always loved tagging along with my Grandpa Ed.”

Both of his parents chose ag-related careers, but neither of them went back to the farms they’d grown up on. Still, McEnany’s done nothing but farm for more than a decade. Starting part-time in college, he worked his way up to a full-time, year-round job on Steve Henry’s corn and soybean operation in Nevada, Iowa.

DAIRY: AMY MAYER; WHEAT: VALDEMAR FISHMEN / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA; CREATIVE COMMONS

Farmers and agriculture groups are digging through the details of the new North American trade deal, called the United States Canada Mexico Agreement, and some are raising concerns that clash with the celebratory mood of the three countries’ leaders.

contributed image / TRACES

A century ago, a deadly flu virus swept across the state and around the world. Millions of people died, including more than 6,000 in Iowa.

Over the next month, social historian Michael Luick-Thrams will visit dozens of libraries, schools and museums in Iowa, Illinois and Indiana with a presentation he calls The Killer. He said it’s an effort to help people understand the scope of the disaster because it is a piece of history that is not well known.

Amy Mayer/IPR

At the Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson, Connie Wehmeyer says she likes the slots tournaments, the free Tuesday donuts and the fact that Wild Rose puts money into the community.

“It’s good for the county,” she said. She should know. Wehmeyer only travels eight miles from her home in Grand Junction to enjoy the gaming. And last year alone, Grow Greene County, the “qualified sponsoring organization,” or non-profit partner, that receives 5 percent of Wild Rose’s revenue, awarded nearly $1.5 million in grants to municipalities, school districts, non-profits and other groups.

Amy Mayer / IPR

A civil engineering student from Spain and Big 12 women’s golf champion could fill a room with her smile. That’s how one professor remembered Celia Barquín Arozamena at a vigil on the Iowa State University campus Wednesday.

“I think about how hard she worked in her classes,” said Jim Alleman, an ISU professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. Even in his difficult classes that didn’t often generate happy expressions among students, Alleman said he would look out at their faces and see Barquín Arozamena smiling.  

Amy Mayer / IPR

An increasing number of farmers is using cover crops to keep water, soil and nutrients from running off fields. But while many studies have shown the agronomic and environmental benefits of the plants that come up after cash crops such as corn or soybeans get harvested, it’s been harder to determine whether a farm business will recover the initial planting cost.

USDA Photo by Lance Cheung

Companies and farmers weathering the Trump administration’s trade policy, which has brought painful tariffs to many industries, could be running out of patience. That’s according to former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who served as USDA secretary for both of President Obama’s terms. 

Vilsack says that farmers and companies were willing to be patient as the Trump administration took a hard stand with China, but after feeling the impact of tariffs, that patience is now running out.

Amy Mayer / IPR file photo

Independent farmers who question the consolidation of farming are finding support from an unexpected ally.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker has introduced a bill calling for an 18-month moratorium on mergers and acquisitions in the food and agribusiness sector.

Amy Mayer / IPR

John Peterson farms corn and soybeans in Jackson, Minnesota, and came to the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, in late August to see what’s new and to learn about the most current technologies.

“It’s all about return on investment,” Peterson said. “Whatever it is that I am focused on, it needs to bring value back to the farm. Otherwise it’s a toy and I really don’t have any use for it.”

Amy Mayer/IPR

A major farm trade show is underway in Iowa, but the first day came to a soggy halt Tuesday.

The Farm Progress Show is billed as the largest outdoor farm show in the country. It’s held at the Central Iowa Expo in Boone County in even-numbered years, alternating with a site in Decatur, Illinois. It kicked off with a strong morning crowd.

John Peterson, a corn and soybean farmer from Jackson, Minnesota, came to check out the latest equipment.

Amy / IPR file photo

Veterinarians and officials are hoping to keep a deadly foreign virus from infecting the American hog industry. African swine fever has been making its way off its namesake continent and into Europe, including Russia. Now, it’s reached China, leading to the culling of about 8,000 hogs.

In response, Japan closed its market to all pork imports from China.

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