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.

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Supporters and opponents of several proposed mergers among agricultural seed and chemical companies made their case to lawmakers in Washington Tuesday.

Executives from Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta argue the proposed new combinations are necessary to continue the research that leads to innovation. But Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, says the new pairings, including a Chinese state-owned company buying Syngenta, could have the opposite effect.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Excess fertilizer and pesticides have flowed from farm fields into our waterways for years. While federal regulations have successfully cut back some water pollution, they have little muscle in combating one of the Midwest’s biggest environmental problems.

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

German pharmaceutical giant Bayer has reached an agreement to buy St. Louis-based Monsanto, the global powerhouse in genetically engineered seeds. Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports on what that means for Midwest farmers.

The merger is the third pairing of top seed and chemical companies in less than a year. Phil Howard of Michigan State University says slower sales in recent years have pushed the companies to consolidate, and he says bigger firms wield more political power.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

On a hot July day in Boone County, Iowa, farmer Brett Heineman shuttled a semi from one of his family’s fields to the local co-op. He and his uncle were harvesting the first crop of oats on this farm in decades.

Before corn and soybeans almost completely covered the landscape – today, they account for 95 percent of crop acres in Iowa – most Corn Belt farmers also grew oats or alfalfa. Now, the Heinemans are among the farmers taking a closer look at re-integrating the small grain into their operations.

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As driverless cars begin to roam the streets, autonomous farm machinery is not far behind. As Harvest Public Media’s Amy Mayer reports, the same fundamental technology may someday let a farmer send his tractor off to work on its own.

At a recent farm show in Iowa, U.S. -equipment maker New Holland, demoed one of its large tractors outfitted to run autonomously. It can position itself on a field, and pull a seeder while its “remote supervisor” monitors from a desktop or tablet. It uses the same radar, and other technologies as self-driving cars, to identify obstacles.

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The U.S. Senate judiciary committee wants to examine proposed mergers among agricultural chemical and seed companies.

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On a Midwest trip last week, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary offered advice to the next presidential administration.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has been on the job since 2009 and in that time his department has expanded programs for local foods and farmers markets, school meals and nutrition, and rural development. He noted that soon the agricultural sector will begin work on the next farm bill, which covers everything from crop safety nets to the food stamp program.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wednesday that it is expanding its support of new farmers and ranchers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met in Ames, Iowa with over a dozen young, beginning, and military veteran farmers. He listened to their start-up stories and announced another $18 million in grants to help new farmers get going. Vilsack says the diversity of farmers, crops, and production strategies all make the food system more resilient. He’s also tried to connect government policy with the on-the-ground needs for farmers.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Growing up on a family farm in West Bend, Iowa, Haley Banwart and her brother were like other farm kids. They did chores, participated in 4-H, and even raised cattle together.

“My brother and I have had the same amount of responsibilities. I can drive a tractor, I can bale square hay,” Banwart says. “But it was just expected that my brother would return home.”

She says they never discussed it, she just accepted that she’d find a different path.

Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

An Iowa Republican is questioning Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s commitment to ethanol. 

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley says Hillary Clinton has been exploring an energy policy in California that focuses on carbon reduction and relies upon a market strategy.

That contrasts with the existing Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates production of ethanol and other bio-based fuels. The RFS has been a boon to Corn Belt farmers.

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