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. Amyââââ

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

 

This is the second story in a series of stories by Harvest Public Media on food waste called Tossed Out: Food Waste in America. 

On a wet, grey day in Grinnell, Iowa, the rain beats a rhythm on the metal roof of a packing shed at Grinnell Heritage Farm. Crew member Whitney Brewer picks big bunches of kale out of a washing tank, lets them drip on a drying table and then packs them into cardboard boxes. 

Corn
jungmoon / Flickr

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that over 90 percent of U.S. field corn is genetically modified. That figure has nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

Most of the corn farmers plant has been embedded with a gene—usually from a bacteria—that protects the corn from pests or herbicides.

Ten years ago, less than half of the corn planted had a genetically modified trait. Today, 93 percent of all field corn does, up from 90 percent last year.

agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Recognizing that the demand for local food is growing to between $5 and 7 billion a year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new effort Thursday aimed at connecting farmers with urban shoppers. 

field
Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The White House’s new climate change report predicts threats to agriculture, including severe weather, more pests and greater demands for water and energy.

pigs
Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

Hog farmers are now required to report outbreaks of certain viral diseases that have spread across the country during the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Courtesy Aaron Gassmann

After a long battle with corn rootworm, Midwest farmers thought they’d found relief in genetically modified seeds engineered to produce toxins deadly to the pest. But recent research confirms what farmers have been noticing for several years: the western corn rootworm has been evolving to outwit the technology.

Peter Gray / Harvest Public Media

 

virus that has devastated piglets for nearly a year is causing lower pork supplies.

Farmer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., knows firsthand what happens when porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED), virus infects a hog barn. He walked through one in late January, pointing out the differences among litters.

“This is a PED litter. See how dirty they are?” he said, pointing to a sow whose little piglets had dirty hooves.

A couple of dead piglets, PED victims, waited to be removed from the pen. When suckling piglets contract the disease, they die from dehydration because their bodies can’t recover from the vomiting and diarrhea it causes. Borgic estimates the outbreak in his barns killed about eight percent of his expected annual total. 

Courtesy Stephen Carmody / Michigan Radio

President Barak Obama signed the new farm bill into law Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, ending years of negotiations and wrangling.

With farm equipment, hay bales and crates of apples setting the stage, the president told the crowd that this farm bill – officially called the Agriculture Act of 2014 – will save taxpayer dollars while also offering support to farmers and ranchers. And he says that helps the whole country.

Courtesy National Archives

When President Obama signs the long-overdue Agriculture Act of 2014 – the new farm bill – into law Friday, both farmers and food stamps advocates will be sighing in relief. This farm bill process was fraught with ups and downs and the loose coalition tying nutrition and farm programs seemed barely able to survive.

missouri capitol
greetarchurchy / Flickr

It’s getting so close now… Wednesday morning the U.S. House passed the Agriculture Act of 2014, the new farm bill. The Senate is expected to take it up soon. President Obama’s signature could be on it in the coming days and then…boom!

Pork producers across the country are grappling with a virus that's going after piglets. Livestock economists estimate the porcine epidemic diarrhea, or PED, virus has already killed about 1 million baby pigs in the U.S. since it was first found in Iowa last spring.

Canada reported its first case Thursday, and the disease shows no sign of abating. That has veterinarians worried.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Pork producers across the country are continuing to grapple with a virus that’s killing their piglets. Experts estimate Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus has already killed about 1 million baby pigs and the disease shows no sign of abating.

farmland
File / KBIA

For the second straight year, farmers are heading into a new year without a farm bill. The massive package provides government support for farmers and ranchers. Divisions in Congress, including over the nutrition programs that make up the bulk of the spending, have kept it from the president’s desk.

Courtesy House Agriculture Committee/Facebook

If it seems like Congress just can’t get the farm bill done, well… that’s because it can’t.

All year long, Washington lawmakers have been saying they want to pass a full five-year farm bill. But even though leaders of the House-Senate conference committee say they are close, they have acknowledged it just won’t get done this year. They’re pushing it off until January.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Farmers and scientists have long understood that what lives beneath the soil affects how crops grow. Often, they work to fight plant diseases—warding off infectious viruses and damaging fungi, for example. But now some microbiologists are focused on how to harness the good things microbes can do, with the goal of increasing farmers’ yields and diminishing their dependence on chemical inputs.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

This is the an installment of the 2013 edition of My Farm Roots, Harvest Public Media’s series chronicling Americans’ connection to the land. Click here to explore more My Farm Roots stories and to share your own.

 

Danelle Myer owns a small vegetable farm and like many other small farmers, she’s passionate about the kind of operation she wants to grow: a small, local business.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hot-button food issues of the day, such as the use of genetically modified organisms or the treatment of livestock, tend to pit large industries against smaller activist groups. Often, both sides will claim the science supports what they are saying. That can leave consumers, most of whom aren’t scientists, in a bit of a bind.

tractor on farmland
(tpsdav/pixabay)

Farmers are working without a farm bill after a nine-month extension on the last one expired Sept. 30. 

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Howard Hill pulls his red Chevy pick-up truck up to a barn near Union, Iowa, that houses 1,000 of his hogs. In the truck’s bed is a 55-pound bag of Rumensin 90, a common antibacterial ingredient in cattle feed that helps reduce bloating. Pigs don’t eat it. Hill brought it here to dump into the manure pit under the hogs.

Hill is among the many Midwestern pork producers who use deep pits under their barns to accumulate manure throughout the year. In the fall, after fields are harvested, the nutrient-rich slurry gets pumped out of the pits and injected into the cropland.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Hog producers and their veterinarians have a new tool to help with the fight against Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV). 

The first cases of the fast-spreading disease in the United States were confirmed last spring, prompting researchers to leap into action. At this point, PEDV has been confirmed on nearly 600 farms in 17 states.

courtesy of Zynga

 

The farm bill is, once again, entering a critical stretch. As was the case last year, the current law expires at the end of September. There’s no election to dissuade elected officials from tackling the major piece of agriculture and nutrition policy—but Congress does have a pretty full plate, with the crisis in Syria, immigration reform and a measure to continue funding federal government programs all set to come to a head.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Farmers may now have to wait until Congress makes its decisions about Syria before the farm bill gets any more attention.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said a farm bill conference committee could meet without disrupting the debate on Syria, but he doesn’t expect that to happen.

“Syria’s going to put the farm bill on the back burner,” Grassley said. “I don’t think that’s justified, but that’s what we’ve been told. And how far—on how many back burners back—I don’t know.”

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

  

When a new disease — known as PEDV —turned up in the U.S. hog industry in May and threatened to kill whole litters of piglets, the National Pork Board quickly responded with $450,000 in research funding.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Driving out of the western Iowa town of Panora, the winding roads offer broad vistas of rolling hills. Many of the mailboxes along Redwood Road show the name Arganbright. Jim Arganbright grew up in this area, one of 10 children. He and his wife, Beverly, have eight kids.

Though Jim Arganbright farmed here his whole life, three years ago at the age of 80 he started renting his cropland to his son Tom, the only one of his children who farms full-time. Now, all Jim Arganbright has to worry about is the livestock — and he doesn’t have too much of that.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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. That has implications for agriculture and the broader environment.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is continuing to push Congress to send a farm bill to President Obama’s desk. And he says dwindling farmer numbers mean coupling agricultural policy with nutrition programs is essential.

Jacob Fenston / KBIA

Hog farmers across the Midwest are battling a new virus this summer. It’s often fatal in very young piglets, and researchers are still trying to explain the outbreak.

Since mid-May, when Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus or PEDV was first identified in this country, it has spread quickly, turning up in 15 states. Over 218 pigs have been diagnosed.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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.

Philavanh 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.

Harvest Public media

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.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

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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