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

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2015 was a down year for most farmers in the Corn Belt, according to Agriculture Department numbers. But as Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, even with their lowest income since 2002, most farmers will stick to what they know.

Demand for grain was high this fall, but corn and soybean supplies were abundant. Still, even low prices may not push farmers away from these staple crops. Iowa State University economist Chad Hart says always the priority is profitability. A few farmers may put more land aside for conservation or switch to organic.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Congress is debating restoring three billion dollars in recent cuts to the crop insurance program as part of a transportation bill. Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer says at least one environmental group thinks the cuts should stay.

The cuts are controversial because farmers depend on crop insurance in lean times and the current program grew out of painstaking farm bill negotiations. But the Environmental Working Group, a longtime critic of farm subsidies, says the cuts wouldn’t hurt farmers. Companies might have to tighten their belts.

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The United Nations Conference on Climate Change got under way in Paris on Monday. With countries debating ongoing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer considers how the talks could affect the U.S. Midwest.

University of Iowa engineering professor Jerry Schnoor says pledges governments have made in advance of the talks aren’t even enough to level off global greenhouse gas emissions—a driver of climate change. Still, he says they’re necessary. The Midwest may see wind energy grow.

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Some Midwest crop farmers are receiving their first government payments under the new farm bill enacted last year. As Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, taxpayers are spending more than projected.

With the new farm bill, farmers choose a safety-net program—one based on average yield or on crop prices.

Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

The antibiotics we depend on to defeat infections are in crisis. And the meat industry is partially responsible. New rules meant to target that part of the problem are coming, but as farmers adjust to the changes, some critics fear they don’t go far enough. 

One of the most important tools of modern medicine is in jeopardy. In the 20th century, antibiotics turned once-lethal infections into manageable diseases. They also contributed to the transformation of meat production in America.

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In the next five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects about 10 percent of farmland to change owners. But as Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, it’s still going to be tough for new farmers to buy land.

A land ownership survey conducted by the Agriculture Department found that landowners plan to put about half of those acres into trusts. That means it might still be farmed, but won’t be sold on the open market. Gifts, bequests and sales to family members further reduce the amount of farmland available for public purchase.

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The rural economy may take a hit this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, farm incomes are forecast to drop.

USDA expects net farm income to be down 36 percent this year compared to last.

USDA economist Mitchell Morehart says lower commodity prices and current land values and production expenses make the most recent forecast bleaker than government estimates from last spring.

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Current high egg prices are likely to continue, as the nation’s flock of egg-laying hens is at its smallest since 2004 thanks to the massive outbreak of avian influenza this spring.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s official numbers show nationally egg production dropped five percent in May compared to May 2014. But in Iowa, the nation’s largest egg producer and the state whose hens took the hardest hit from the flu, the figure is 28 percent.

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.

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.

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