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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

After Backlash, Agriculture Department Lifts Gag-Order on Taxpayer-Funded Research

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File: Grace Hood for Harvest Public Media
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Scientists at the federal Agricultural Research Service operate a seed vault in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Update 1/25/2017: The Agricultural Research Servicerescinded its initial directive in an email to employees Tuesday evening.

Just one day after directing its researchers not to publicly share their research, and after suffering a public relations backlash, the Department of Agriculture’s main research arm has rescinded its original order, saying it “values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public…”

Some employees of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) received an email Monday from the division’s chief of staff ordering them to stop publicizing their work. On Tuesday evening, the division’s chief administrator sent an email, which was obtained by Harvest Public Media, walking back the directive.

“ARS has not blacked out public information,” Chavonda Jacobs-Young wrote in the email.

The Agriculture Department found itself in hot water when news of  the communication restrictions  became public in a report from Buzzfeed News.
“Starting immediately and until further notice, ARS will not release any public-facing documents,” the original email from ARS Chief of Staff Sharon Drumm reads, in part. “This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

The communication lockdown at ARS was one of a number of restrictions issued to federal employees as President Donald Trump assumed power, including employees at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, according to the Washington Post.

“The new limits on public communications appear to be targeting agencies that are charged with overseeing environmental and scientific policy, prompting criticism from officials within the agencies and from outside groups focused on climate change,” the Post reported Tuesday.

The ARS runs about 750 research projects – from research stations to test fields to laboratories – and had a $1.1 billion taxpayer-funded budget in the 2015 fiscal year. ARS researchers study everything from waterway pollution to climate change and often work hand-in-hand with researchers at land grant universities.

The impact of even a temporary order restricting communication remains to be seen, but there are fears both inside and outside of USDA that the Trump Administration plans to control research and communication at federal agencies in unprecedented ways.