- 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.
Vice President, Strategic Communications
Bethany leads ASTA’s Better Seed, Better Life public-facing communications program, as well as policy communications efforts around the seed industry’s legislative and regulatory priorities.
Prior to joining ASTA in 2015, Bethany ran the communications department at the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD). Before NACD, Bethany served as a Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, and as a Legislative Assistant and Correspondence Director for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.
Bethany is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, and received a degree in Communications and Marketing from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.
Director, Internal Communications and Engagement
Ellen joined ASTA in October 2018 after coming from the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) where she communicated to members on behalf of the President, on special campaigns, and planned and organized events. Prior to APWU, Ellen was the project manager at Ohio Corn & Wheat where she worked to advance the mission of two checkoff programs and a growers association. As project manager, she oversaw several initiatives to represent Ohio grain farmers and provide long-term profitability. Her duties included member benefits and engagement, leadership initiatives and assisting with communications. In addition, Ellen worked as the marketing manager at RFD-TV where she played an integral part in developing marketing strategy and publications for the network.
Ellen was also actively involved in FFA, including serving as a chapter president and a state officer in Ohio. Ellen is originally from McCutchenville, Ohio and earned a degree in agricultural communication from The Ohio State University.
Manager, Marketing & Communications
Kaitlin joined ASTA in March 2018. Prior to joining ASTA, she worked for the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau in California, where she spearheaded the reform of the communications program.
Born and raised in California, Kaitlin grew up in the agriculture industry raising sheep and rabbits through 4-H and FFA. In 2012, she received her American FFA Degree.
Kaitlin received her B.S. in Agricultural Communications from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Domestic & International Policy
Bernice Slutsky, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President, Innovation
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.
Senior Director, International Programs and Policy
Abigail joined ASTA in 2018 from the Agriculture Transportation Coalition (AgTC) where she served as Policy & Program Manager since 2013. In her role at AgTC, Abigail represented member companies’ regulatory and legislative interests before government agencies, on Capitol Hill, and among private sector stakeholders to ensure U.S. exports move competitively and efficiently to foreign markets.
Prior to her time at AgTC, Abigail worked at the Washington International Trade Association in Washington, D.C. and at Business Oregon’s International Trade Office in Portland. Abigail has a degree in International Political Economy from the University of Puget Sound.
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.
Director of Government Relations
As Director of Government Relations, Virginia Houston is responsible for implementing ASTA’s federal legislative initiatives. In addition, she spearheads 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, the political action committee of the seed industry.
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 the 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.
Coordinator, Domestic and International Programs
Mary joined ASTA in January of 2019. Prior to joining ASTA, Mary served as the Director of Consumer Affairs for the Missouri Beef Industry Council. During her time with MBIC, Mary engaged with key influencers to drive demand and protect the business climate for beef. Before moving to Missouri, she worked in regulatory animal health and traceability.
Growing up on a cow/calf operation in southern Idaho, Mary has been immersed in production agriculture from a young age. She spent her youth fixing fences and setting irrigation pipes. Mary holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Idaho.
Finance & Administration
Chief Operating Officer
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.
Director, Internal Communications and Engagement
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.