Amy Mayer

Reporter, Harvest Public Media

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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Walk down a grocery store aisle today and you’re likely to find lots of food…and lots of marketing claims. Whether a product’s label says its low in fat, produced without hormones, or a good source of protein is largely governed by consumer demand and corporate profit.

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

The packaged foods found in supermarkets, convenience stores and vending machines are full of ingredients you often can’t pronounce.

They’ve been carefully developed and tested in a lab and likely have been shipped long distances. They can hold up to weeks or even months on the shelf. But most of them began with fresh food you might cook with at home.

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The local food scene has exploded in recent years, which means there’s a lot more local produce on dinner tables. It also means that during the spring season as small farms start ramping back up, they have to work a bit harder to attract new customers.

Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, allow subscribers to connect directly with a farm, and remain a mainstay for local farmers looking to latch on to consistent revenue.

File: Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

As the number of farms hit with avian flu grows over to 100 nationwide, regulators are implementing containment plans meant to stop the virus’ spread, spare millions of at-risk birds and thousands of poultry farms.

  Leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees also asked the Obama Administration to direct the USDA to allocate more money toward compensating growers that have lost flocks to avian flu.  

Farmers and ranchers from the Midwest and Plains states were among those who testified before the U.S. Senate agriculture committee Tuesday. Many objected to a proposed change to the rules on how the federal government oversees waterways.

Nearly a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a change to the Clean Water Act that it says would clarify its authority over certain wetlands and streams. But Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who serves on the agriculture committee, says the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule has met strong opposition in farm country.

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Farmers face plenty of risk, including the unknowns of weather, global markets and the more predictable expenses of taxes and equipment costs.

Federal commodity support programs were created to help farmers during bad years. But under a relatively unknown provision of federal law, farmers don’t have to actually grow a particular crop to get farm bill payments.

That might sound like “paying farmers not to farm,” but it’s actually a complicated way of helping to reduce over-dependence on one crop.

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Across the Corn Belt, farmers are signing up for Farm Bill support programs and which ones they choose will impact the overall price tag for taxpayers.

Projections for the cost of these commodity programs are blowing past the amounts originally budgeted just a year ago, when the Farm Bill was enacted, leaving the possibility that U.S. taxpayers will pay out billions more than planned.

File: Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Bacon and pork chops could become cheaper this year thanks, in part, to fewer pigs getting sick with the virus that devastated hog farms in 2014.

File: Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

In the budget President Obama is sending to Congress he’s asking for more than $1 billion to combat antibiotic resistance, and some of that money would focus on animal agriculture.

Antibiotic resistance can make common medications ineffective, meaning sick people don’t get better and doctors have fewer options to treat bacterial infections.  

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Update: Avian influenza was found in a Foster Farms turkey flock in Stanislaus County, Calif., the company announced Monday. The outbreak is thought to be the first infection of this type of bird flu in a commercial flock in the U.S.

The original story begins here:

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Demand for products that don’t contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, is exploding.  

Many food companies are seeking certification that their products don’t have any genetically modified ingredients, and not just the brands popular in the health food aisle. Even plain Cheerios, that iconic cereal from General Mills, no longer contains GMOs.

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The Farm Bill enacted earlier this year was supposed to save taxpayers money, in part by reducing subsidy payments to farmers. But a massive drop in prices for the nation’s largest crops means that many farmers may rely on the farm safety net this year and could herald large government payouts.

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In a dimly-lit lab on the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools’ agricultural science campus, students in aprons, safety goggles and plastic gloves poke and probe chicken wings. About 15 girls and just one boy in this vet careers class are looking for ligaments, tendons, cartilage and other features of this animal part that teenagers more often experience cooked and covered in barbecue sauce.

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Bear Creek Dairy in Brooklyn, Iowa, is home to more than 1,100 cows, who provide about 100,000 pounds of milk each day. The 15-year-old farmer who works closely with the farm’s calves comes from a long line of dairymen – in Europe.

Five years ago, Teun Boelen’s parents sold their farm in the Netherlands and bought a dairy in southeast Iowa because, as his mother explains it, there was no room for their old farm to grow.  

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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.  

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Change is coming to the poultry industry, but not everyone is happy about it.

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TV shows like “CSI” have made forensics a hot topic, spawning books and even science programs for kids. The same technology used at crime scenes to link a stray hair to a suspect can also find antibiotics or other medications in milk and meat. And the use of sophisticated testing is becoming increasingly available for livestock producers, who stand to lose lots of money if their products are tainted.

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In his home in Forest City, Iowa, Riley Lewis has the original warranty deed for his farm, signed by President James Buchanan and issued to one Elias Gilbert, a soldier who served in the War of 1812.

“He moved here, northeast of Forest City, and lived there for one year,” Lewis said, which was the obligation veterans had if they homesteaded. “And then he sold it to Robert Clark, who was the founder of Forest City.”

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A fast spreading, crop destroying weed may be coming to the farms near you.

Palmer amaranth, which has plagued southern farms for decades, has been marching across the Midwest. It can decimate a crop. It can withstand many common herbicides. And it can cost farmers millions.

Roger Hargrafen, a farmer in Muscatine County, Iowa, is on the front lines in the battle against Palmer amaranth. His is one of four Iowa farms confirmed as having it.

More than 90 percent of U.S. field corn is genetically modified, according to data recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Farmers planted a record number of soybean acres this season. But corn is flat in several Midwestern states, while down slightly in others.

Those are some of the takeaways from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report on planted grain acres for the season, which offers the first glimpse of production for 2014.

Courtesy Kurt Rosentrater

  Global hunger has no easy answer.

But as part of a partnership with the federal government called Feed the Future, researchers at land-grant universities are trying new approaches to the decades-old dilemma.

“The world’s poorest people, and hungriest people, generally, the majority of them are small farmers living in rural areas,” said Tjada D’oyen McKenna, deputy coordinator for development for Feed the Future. “And agriculture is the most effective means of bringing them out of poverty and under-nutrition.”

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Nathan Anderson stops his red pick-up truck alongside a cornfield on his farm near Cherokee, Iowa. The young farmer pulls on a heavy brown hoodie, thick, long, sturdy gloves and a beekeeper’s hat with a screened veil. He approaches a pair of hives sitting on the edge of a field recently planted with corn and adjusts a yellow plastic flap that traps some of the pollen the bees bring back to their hive.

Pietro Izzo / Flickr--CC

The former operators of a large egg farm in Iowa have agreed to plead guilty to federal charges in connection with a major salmonella outbreak in 2010.

Federal officials have charged Austin “Jack” DeCoster, his son Peter and their company, Quality Egg, with allowing the salmonella-contaminated eggs to reach consumers. They’re also charged with mislabeling eggs and attempting to bribe a USDA inspector. More than 500 million eggs were recalled and at least 2,000 people became sick from the outbreak.

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

The third National Climate Assessment is a summary of the current science about the nation’s climate and how it’s changing written by a panel of expert scientists.

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The smell of baking dinner rolls fills the kitchen at Decorah High School in northeast Iowa. As two kitchen workers mix a fresh broccoli salad, another, Chad Elliott, ladles tomato soup from a large metal pot on the stove into white plastic buckets for delivery to the town’s elementary schools.

Elliott says most of the food served in the district is made from scratch and many ingredients come from local farms and dairies.

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As Food Corps service member Ashley Turk navigates her way through a brand-new greenhouse in the courtyard at Waukon High School in the northeast corner of Iowa, she points to a robust supply of red and green lettuce leaves growing neatly in rows.

“It’s huge,” she says. “We cut it off and it just keeps growing.”

The greenhouse lettuce is among the offerings in the school’s salad bar. And students will soon be growing carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables, Turks says.

File: 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

Bacon-loving shoppers prepare yourselves: A virus that has devastated piglets for nearly a year is causing lower pork supplies and higher prices.

Farmer Phil Borgic of Nokomis, Ill., knows firsthand what happens when porcine epidemic diarrhea (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.

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