- President and CEO
- Domestic & International Policy
- Finance & Administration
- Meetings & Services
President and CEO
Andrew W. “Andy” LaVigne
Andy has had a 25-year career in government relations, public affairs advocacy and management. Within the areas of agriculture, food policy and international trade, he has a broad range of expertise.
Prior to being named CEO of ASTA in 2006, Andy was Executive Vice President/CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual, representing citrus growers on issues affecting their business. Earlier, he spent four years as President and Executive Director of Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, a non-profit agricultural trade organization representing companies that specialize in crop protection and plant nutrition products.
Andy has served on the Agriculture Trade Advisory Committee for Fruits and Vegetables for USDA; Agriculture Policy Advisory Committee for the USDA and USTR; USDA-APHIS Systems Approach Review Group; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Food and Agriculture Committee; and several other state and national industry committees and advisory groups.
Prior to entering the association management field, Andy worked for a decade on Capitol Hill, as Legislative Director for Rep. Charles Canady and earlier, as Agriculture Committee staffer for Rep. Tom Lewis. He holds a B.A. in political science with a minor in economics from the University of Florida.
Brenda Rowe, Executive Assistant
Brenda Rowe joined ASTA in March, 2017 as the Executive Assistant to ASTA’s President and CEO. In addition, Brenda serves as the Board Relations Manager assisting the Association’s board of directors, executive committee and officers; ensuring coordination of projects within the office; scheduling and planning executives meeting and travel; training and providing leadership to other support staff, and ASTA member relations.
Prior to joining ASTA, Brenda worked as the executive office operations associate at the School Nutrition Association where she supported the board of directors and executive committee. She also worked as the executive assistant to the president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.
Bethany joined ASTA in 2015 after heading up communications efforts at the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) for the past five years. In her role as Director of Communications, Bethany works closely with senior staff and the association’s leadership to promote the seed industry’s regulatory and legislative positions as well as its many initiatives to support seed education and research.
Prior to her time at NACD, Bethany held communications posts at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Senate.
Bethany is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and received a degree in Communications and Marketing from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.
Manager, Marketing and Member Outreach
Nikki came to ASTA in 2015 to provide innovative marketing strategies that support the initiatives of the overall mission of the association. Nikki is responsible for delivering strategic consultation, project management, and marketing plan development.
Before joining American Seed Trade Association; Barnes served as a marketing specialist in the Information Technology vertical. She is a Terp alumnus who holds an MBA in Marketing and International Business with a concentration in digital marketing.
Domestic & International Policy
Bernice Slutsky, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Domestic and International Policy
Dr. Bernice Slutsky joined ASTA in 2006 to work on issues involving emerging technologies, intellectual property rights, and international regulation and trade. Prior to ASTA she served as Senior Advisor for Biotechnology in the Office of the Secretary, coordinating USDA policies and activities in agricultural biotechnology.
Previously, Bernice served as Assistant Vice President, International Regulatory Affairs at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) in a regulatory advocacy position, and before that as the Biotechnology Coordinator of International Trade Policy at the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service. She earned her doctoral degree in biology from the University of Iowa.
Vice President, Government and Regulatory Affairs
Jane joined ASTA from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), where she was Director of Government Affairs for Research and Technology, and involved with research-related policy issues and industry-wide efforts to bring biotechnology to wheat. She coordinated the Wheat Innovation Alliance and served as secretariat for the National Wheat Improvement Committee.
Prior to NAWG, Jane was Director of Government Affairs for the North American Millers’ Association (NAMA), responsible for advocating on behalf of the corn, wheat, and oat milling industry. Before NAMA, she worked in economic development and trade promotion for the Ohio Department of Development and the U.S. Department of Commerce in Ohio, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Jane received her Bachelor’s degree in Asian studies from Dartmouth College.
Ric Dunkle, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Seed Health and Trade
Ric joined ASTA in January, 2008 after a 35-year career in state and Federal government. He handles phytosanitary issues associated with international seed movement and coordinates issues related to seed quality, testing, and research.
Most recently, Ric was Deputy Administrator of APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine, where he oversaw USDA’s plant regulatory and trade programs related to phytosanitary issues. Prior to that role, he held positions in research, management, and executive leadership at the USDA Agricultural Research Service. He began working for the USDA in 1981, serving in the Secretary’s Office of Environmental Quality as liaison to the Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA and university agricultural research.
Ric’s career began in 1973 with the California Department of Food and Agriculture as a field entomologist. He holds a B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.
Director, International Programs and Policy
Michelle joined ASTA in 2013. As Director of International Programs and Policy, she is responsible for providing programmatic management of USDA Cooperator/donor-funded programs and assisting in the development of ASTA’s international policies and priorities. Formerly at Virginia-based AGRALYTICA, Michelle provided analysis and support for market research, program evaluations and strategic market analysis for government agencies, trade associations and US exporter organizations.
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Michelle is currently working on an MS-MBA in Food and Agribusiness Management from Purdue University and the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
Director of State Government Affairs
With ASTA since 2007, Pat works with state and regional seed industry associations to monitor seed-related state initiatives and to assist with legislative, regulatory and grassroots activities. He also directs ASTA’s Seed Advocate program, informing and mobilizing seed industry activists.
A 25-year veteran of the ag industry, Pat formerly ran an association management firm and counted among his clients the Texas Ag Industries Association; the Texas Certified Crop Advisers program; the Texas Plant Protection Conference; the Texas Independent Ag Consultants Association; and the Texas Agricultural Aviation Association. Pat holds a B.A. in marketing from the University of North Texas.
Associate Director of Domestic and Government Affairs
As Associate Director for Domestic and Government Affairs, Virginia Houston is responsible for assisting in ASTA’s federal legislative and regulatory initiatives. In addition, she assists with the advocacy efforts of the association through representing ASTA on Capitol Hill, tracking proposed legislation, coordinating comments and testimony to Congress, and managing the activities of SeedFirstPAC.
Most recently Virginia was employed with the National Pork Producers Council, where she managed member outreach, legislative research and NPPC’s political action committee. She held previous positions at the Animal Agriculture Alliance and Agriculture Marketing Service at USDA.
A native of east Tennessee, Virginia grew up on a diversified cow/calf operation, and her family owns and operates the oldest livestock auction market in Tennessee. Virginia has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Mississippi and a master’s in Political Management from The George Washington University.
Manager, International Programs and Policy
Kelly Crist joined the staff of the American Seed Trade Association in January 2012. As the Manager for Science and International Affairs, her main role is to provide administrative management for ASTA’s activities under the USDA Cooperator Program. Kelly also assists and supports ASTA’s International Executive Committee, as well as ASTA staff within the Domestic and International Policy department.
Prior to joining ASTA, Kelly worked as Executive Coordinator for the George Washington University and as International Coordinator for Asia at the U.S. Grains Council. She also served as a Small Enterprise Development Peace Corp Volunteer in Mali, West Africa.
Kelly received her B.A. in International Affairs and Philosophy in 2006 from Sweet Briar College in Virginia.
Finance & Administration
Vice President, Finance & Administration
Ann has been with ASTA for over 21 years, currently providing the association with “institutional memory” and serving as its head of finance, human resources and administration. She began as an accounts payable clerk and progressed up to vice president of the department in 2001. In 2003, in response to member demand, Ann established ASTA’s International Arbitration Chamber through the International Seed Foundation. In 2004, she helped to create the Seed Association of the Americas, and in 2006, she spearheaded efforts to establish the First – the Seed Foundation. Twice, since working at ASTA, Ann has managed the contractual and build-out aspects of the office relocation.
Ann began her career working in accounting for the Marriott Corporation, then for Guest Quarters hotels. She later provided accounting support for Advantage International, a sports marketing firm.
Currently, in addition to her financial at ASTA, she serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the American Seed Research Foundation, the National Council of Commercial Plant Breeders, First-the Seed Foundation, ASTA and the Seed Association of the Americas.
Ann graduated from the American University in Washington, DC with Bachelor of Science degree.
Barbara A Surian
Director, Administrative Services
Barbara joined ASTA in April, 2001 as the Executive Assistant to ASTA’s President and CEO. In January, 2013 she changed positions within the organization and is currently supporting the finance, membership and meetings departments. In addition, Barb also manages the purchasing of office supplies, maintains the office equipment and is the liaison with ASTA’s computer tech support and building management.
Prior to joining ASTA, Barbara worked as executive assistant to the president of a staffing agency and to the regional president for Chase Manhattan bank. She also worked as an administrative assistant to investigators for the FDA.
Meetings & Services
Director, Meetings & Services
For over a decade, Jennifer has planned and managed ASTA’s four major annual conferences: the Farm & Lawn Seed Conference; the CSS and Seed Expo; the Vegetable & Flower Seed Conference; and the Annual Convention. In this role, she negotiates all site, sponsorship, vendor and exhibitor contracts; oversees scheduling, marketing, accommodations, speakers and special events; and provides around-the-clock on-site support at each event.
Prior to joining ASTA, Jennifer served as Conference Services Manager at The Fairmont in Washington, DC and as Coordinator, Meetings & Exhibits for the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy. She cut her teeth on contract drafting and negotiations earlier while managing talent and vendors for club, arena and stadium shows for Cellar Door Productions.
Jennifer received her Certified Meeting Professional (CMP) designation in 2002 and earned a Master’s degree in tourism administration at the George Washington University in 2002, after receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Relations from the School of Journalism at the University of Maryland in 1997.