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 / 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.

The future of crop insurance and conservation programs for the Midwest is up for debate in Washington, as the farm bill reaches the floor of the Senate. The agriculture committees of both the Senate and the House passed new five-year bills last week and legislation is expected to make its way to the House floor soon.

The overarching theme this year is spending cuts—as with most federal programs. But how the two bodies trim down the farm bill differs. Nutrition programs will lose the most, with the House cutting more than the Senate.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

At a basin in central Iowa’s Onion Creek Watershed, Sean McCoy pulls a state truck up near a brand-new wetland. It looks like a construction zone, with lots of bare earth.

Raising pork can be a tough business for producers, who've lately been watching feed prices rise along with the cost of corn. That's one reason why a small but growing number of former commodity pork producers are trying their luck with specialty breeds instead. These premium pigs, raised on small farms with methods that appeal to consumers, can also fetch a premium price.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

There’s more than one way to sell a pig.

And when the hog market plunged to 8 cents a pound in 1998, Iowa producer Randy Hilleman decided it was time to make a change. Hilleman raises Berkshire pigs, a breed that’s fattier than traditional pigs and costs a little more to raise. Back then, that was hurting him.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Marilyn Andersen raises angora goats and llamas for wool that she spins and weaves in her studio at Two Cedars Weaving in Story City, Iowa. She also has a part-time job coordinating distribution of local produce through a service called Farm to Folk. Neither effort comes with health insurance.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

At an open house at DuPont Pioneer’s Dallas Center Corn Research Center near Des Moines, Iowa, retired corn breeder Bill Ambrose marveled at the tools available today to do the job he did for nearly 40 years.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The vast majority of the corn and soybeans in United States grow from seeds that have been genetically modified. The technology is barely 30 years old and the controversy surrounding it somewhat younger. But how did it even become possible?

Courtesy of Whistleblower.org

Retired federal inspector Phyllis McKelvey spent 44 years looking for blemishes and other defects on chicken carcasses. She started as an inspector’s helper, worked her way up, and in 1998, became part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture trial.

“I was one of the first group of inspectors ever put on HIMP,” she said in an interview from her home in north Alabama.

 This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently accepting claims from female and Hispanic farmers who believe the agency discriminated against them in farm loan or loan servicing programs. The claims process is complex—but the payouts could be large.

After the courts rejected a class action lawsuit from the farmers, USDA agreed to a voluntary settlement process with women and Latinos.

Claimants must submit a 16-page claims package plus additional evidence, and then a third-party will review and determine eligibility.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

New food safety regulations are about to be announced by the Food and Drug Administration. These regulations—covering everything from sanitation to record-keeping—are part of the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which became law two years ago. While the produce and meat industries get the lion’s share of attention, commodity grains now fall under the FDA’s watch.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

About a decade ago, concerns about energy independence, greenhouse gas emissions and the need to boost rural economies led Congress to launch policies in support of biofuels  – corn ethanol, most notably. But the idea was that eventually more U.S.-produced fuel would be cellulosic – derived from corn residue, wheat straw or other biomass.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The United States is the world’s leading producer and exporter of corn, which is used as livestock feed to support the increasing demand for meat in China, India and other countries with growing middle classes.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Beyond subsidies and food stamps, what’s in the farm bill?

With the election over, lawmakers are now returning to Washington for the final weeks of the 112th Congress. Their schedule is packed, but House majority leader Eric Cantorhas said addressing the expired Farm Bill is on the agenda.

Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

When Congress recessed for the election season without passing a new farm bill, many observers thought farmers would demand explanations as campaign trails blazed through small towns. But despite its importance in farm country, the farm bill and farm policy are largely being overshadowed by other campaign issues.

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