I had a chance on July 17 to chat with Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, Washington, D.C.

10:28 a.m. Tom Karst:, thanks for taking time for a Fresh Talk chat. As you may have noticed, I like to ask people about their background prior to coming to the industry... What was your education and career path that led you to NCAE?

10:31 a.m. Frank Gasperini: I have a BS in Agricultural Education and an MS in Agronomy. I taught Vocational Agriculture in NorthEast Ohio for two years, went back to grad school at The Ohio State University for an MS in Agronomy and then worked in the pesticide industry in a variety of roles from sales, sales management, marketing, and eventually issues & regulatory management until I joined the association world in 2001. As a side note, the first money I ever remember earning was from selling sweet corn from my Grandfather's garden to neighbors.

10:33 a.m. Tom: That sounds like a good memory. My grandfather also had a big garden of cukes and tomatoes and beans... I digress...Anyway, what has it been like for you learning about the issues of your association? You seem to be comfortable already as we see you quoted more and more in the trade and consumer press.... Who has helped you get up to speed?

10:38 a.m. Frank: The base issues for agriculture are remarkably similar across many areas, the laws and regulations as well as some of the regulators you work with change but agriculture is a relatively small community and the core issue of government and society becoming more and more remote from production is important to all ag disciplines. What I have had to learn new, and very quickly, have been the basic Employer/Labor issues, laws, regulations, and agencies. I still have a long way to go but am getting more comfortable every day. To start, worked to read everything I could-- and still do that. My Members have been extremely helpful and generous of their time, as have been many other association folks in the states and here in DC-- I would name a few but there are so many I would not want to leave anyone out.

10:40 a.m. Frank: More-- some of you, including you Tom and some of your writers have been very good to NCAE and to me personally to help me learn and grow in a relatively safe/friendly media environment. Thank you for that. Additionally, I think my sales training has helped because I ask questions about everything and people like to talk when you ask what they think, what they need, what their experience is.

10:42 a.m. Tom: Thanks for that. It has been a busy time in Washington and the new Administration, with a myriad of issues that relate to ag employers. I know this is hard to do in this format, but could you tell our readers what are a couple of things "on your plate" right now and what you hope to accomplish policy wise?  

10:50 a.m. Frank: Legislatively, I want NCAE to be part of the overall debate and solution to passing and implementing a workable and fair AgJOBS policy. Ideally that would be part of a Comprehensive Immigration Reform package because that is what we really need to give us a chance to rectify all the current issues with workplace/employer enforcement, documentation of employment eligibility and the other issues American Agricultural employers are struggling with. Until we get there, we will continue to struggle with short-term fixes to the H2 programs and all of the unpredictability of administrative action. On the Regulatory side, I need to get more up-to speed with DOL and DHS and hope to develop the kind of extensive networks that I formerly had with policy leaders at EPA. Longer term I want to see NCAE be perceived as a good coalition partner and source of information by other associations AND by our government agencies.

10:52 a.m. Frank:  I almost neglected to mention Health Care. This debate is raging now. NCAE is working with many other agriculture groups to assure that the unique challenges of agricultural employers are not lost in the debate. This is an important issue for all Americans and we are trying to do our part to see that we get it right the first time.

10:53 a.m. Tom: You mention networking. What does that look like? On a related note, what's a typical day/week like for you?   

11:00 a.m. Frank: NCAE is a very small organization, and thinly capitalized. Almost everything we do is done with and/or through others. Some are Members, who are much larger than we are and have extensive lobbying and/or research resources. Others are not Members but are allies, perhaps only on one issue, perhaps on a wide range of issues. The only way to succeed when you are not a huge player is to network as much/often as possible with your allies and potential coalition partners, do what you can with what you have, communicate fairly and accurately - so expectations are clear, and follow-through on what you commit to. So, I spend much of my time communicating with as many of my members and other Ag groups as I have contact with and working every day to try to expand that network. I still spend a huge amount of time every day reading and learning, most of that on the computer. The internet with all the search-engines and widgets you can access free had been a real revolution for our kind of work! I try to spend some time every week on the Hill or with an agency but have not been as successful sticking to that discipline as I would like because of day-to-day management needs of the association. I am still spending more time that I had hoped by this point on day-to-day management and fundraising, I hope that will be less a factor once we get past 2009.

11:03 a.m. Tom: Very good window to your world - I appreciate that. One more question, because I've kept you more than 30 minutes; what are some of your passions/hobbies away from the office? Again, thanks for your time and I look forward to seeing you on my coming trip to DC..

11:07 a.m. Frank: Anything that lets me spend time with my wife, who has put up with me for 36 years! I am a lay-speaker at my church every chance I get. I love gardening although I am still learning how to garden this far south! I make pretty good home-brewed beer when I find time to do it, and have used hops grown by and NCAE member recently! Mostly I just love to spend weekends around the house doing yard work, fixing things, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

11:09 AM Tom: I hear you - home is where the heart is. Thanks again, Frank.