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Newsletter Has Worldwide Readership

January 9, 1988

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ A newsletter on Soviet agriculture, compiled by Professor Frank A. Durgin Jr. of the University of Southern Maine, may not have a large readership on the commuter campus where he teaches and carries on his research.

But Durgin’s quarterly publication has a wide following far beyond Maine. It’s read at the Pentagon and the CIA, at giant corporations such as Cargill Inc., and by foreign governments including Japan, Australia and Great Britain.

The Newsletter for Research on Soviet & East European Agriculture, or RSEEA, is said to be the only worldwide clearinghouse for information about developments in the agricultural systems of the East bloc nations.

″There’s nothing top secret here,″ said Durgin. ″We ride herd on conferences and publish abstracts of the research. Then we survey the journals and call attention to the articles.″

Durgin also surveys statistics from the Soviet Union and other sources to glean an updated harvest outlook in each issue, and puts together a feature article on an aspect of socialist agriculture.

The publication can be ″tedious and boring,″ acknowledged Gene Pranger, assistant director of finance and management at USM, who serves as associate editor in charge of production and distribution. ″A lot of it is numbers. Sometimes it’s just 15 pages of raw data.″

RSEEA was founded in 1979 by Kenneth Gray, an expert in Soviet agriculture who taught at West Texas State University. When Gray moved on to an economic research post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1985, Durgin was invited to take over the newsletter.

He was an obvious choice. One of only a handful of specialists in Soviet agriculture at U.S. colleges and universities, Durgin is a professor of economics whose interest in Soviet farming dates back to his doctoral dissertation at the University of Toulouse in France.

His newsletter has a circulation of 450, of which about 100 copies are mailed to foreign countries. About 50 are sent to U.S. government agencies, according to Pranger, who says the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon receive several copies each.

Subscribers also include multinational corporations with an interest in the worldwide grain trade, and colleges and universities ″in every state in the U.S.,″ he said.

As a cooperative publication, RSEEA welcomes contributions from scholars and waives the $15 to $25 annual subscription fee for readers who submit information published in the newsletter.

Durgin counts among his contacts Soviet economists and the agricultural attache at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, who sometimes reward him with a journalistic ″scoop.″ For instance, he notes that RSEEA was the first to report this past year’s decision by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to do away with agricultural subsidies in favor of allowing prices to rise while increasing consumer purchasing power.

Soviet agriculture, according to Durgin, has undergone enormous changes during the past two decades. Instead of relying on expanded acreage to feed a growing population, the Soviets have shifted to a more intensive form of agriculture in which machinery, fertilizer and irrigation play a bigger role than ever before.

″The Soviets now talk about their agro-industrial complex,″ Durgin said.

Although it maintains its old nameplate, RSEEA recently expanded its sphere of coverage to include agricultural developments in China. History professor Craig Dietrich was named an associate editor and will contribute articles on Chinese agriculture.

The fourth member of the staff, Lynn Matyas, assists in production of the newsletter, which averages about 12 pages per issue.

Durgin and Pranger hope to expand the newsletter into a scholarly journal, one that would include longer articles by leading specialists in the field. The expansion would mean a substantial rise in printing and mailing costs, but they say the publication’s broader appeal could nearly triple the number of subscribers.

Originally published under a grant from the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, the newsletter now falls under the auspices of USM’s School of Business.

Pranger says it’s not unusual for a newsletter such as RSEEA to be based at a campus such as USM.

″It can be hidden off the smallest, out-of-the-way place. It’s the energy of the individuals involved to see that it’s carried on. It’s a labor of love, so to speak,″ he said.

End Adv Weekend Editions Jan 9-10

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