EDITORS NOTE: This story is one in a series featuring DATCP employees and programs.
MADISON – While Roger Kasper considers most of his work behind-the-scenes at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), his effort has impacted the state’s agriculture and bioenergy industries for years. So much so that in January, Kasper received the Distinguished Public Service Award from RENEW Wisconsin.
“When I got involved in the bioenergy discussion, I was told by my supervisor to help fuel conversation, broaden thinking and encourage collaboration,” said Kasper. “Lots of other people did most of the work. I asked questions at meetings and provided people with information.”
Kasper was recognized by RENEW Wisconsin for organizing and supporting a broad-based bioenergy constituency that was instrumental in making Wisconsin a national leader in generating biogas electricity. This is the first time this specific award was given.
Currently, Kasper is a technical advisor in DATCP’s Division of Agricultural Development, Rural Electric Power Services (REPS) program. He has been with the agency for more than twenty years. Prior to his tenure at DATCP, he gained professional experience at the Department of Transportation and the University of Wisconsin.
He spends much of his time monitoring timely issues and evaluating reports. He provides brief summaries of the more complex articles and reports for members of the public and co-workers.
“Fairly regularly I will be contacted by people with technical questions, and they don’t know where to even start to find answers,” said Kasper. “I help them sort out a question and direct them to an appropriate expert or resource.”
A life-long learner, Kasper received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Over the years he has continued to complete numerous undergraduate and graduate level classes. This explains his continued interest in learning new things, like investigating agricultural transportation infrastructure activities.
“I have had a lifelong interest in how technology and society evolved or conflicted with each other,” explained Kasper. “Being in the thick of debates and analysis of stray voltage, farm energy use, biogas and renewable energy has been thrilling.”
When Kasper started college in the 1980’s, there was drive to advance biofuels and renewable energy systems, and he was excited to be a part of it. Unfortunately before he graduated, this momentum was lost. For years, he worked as a hazardous material manager in other agencies.
Initially, his work at DATCP was focused entirely on stray voltage research until biogas and bioindustry questions started rolling in to the agency. He happened to be at the right place at the right time, and became the resident contact for all things bioenergy.
Many times, Kasper helps people evaluate their proposals and dreams of working with biogas and biofuels. He works with excited people about their ideas; analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to ensure they understand the big picture.
Some of Kasper’s conversations on the phone can be difficult. He also supports the work of the Wisconsin Farm Center, assisting with client calls. Kasper especially remembers the emotionally intense times when stray voltage was a prevalent topic.
“Working through the person’s issues can be like grief counseling,” added Kasper. “I tried to give the person a supportive ear to hear the anger, depression and doubt, and then when they were ready, help them figure out what can be done.”
Kasper was born on a farm outside of Lancaster and spent summers on various cousin’s farms in Grant County. This agricultural background explains his deep respect for farmers and the agriculture industry.
While he now works part-time and sticks close to the office, he continues to offer a unique perspective on many issues. He notes that while agriculture is here to stay, it will continue to shift and evolve. There is no doubt that Kasper will one of the people tracking those changes.