About Us


The National Industrial Hemp Council provides high quality networking and resources for its members, from the farm to consumer. Our leadership is composed of leading international, federal, state, private industry, and government professionals throughout the sector. Our goals are to further market development, assist members in entering the industry, and educate the consumer on industrial hemp and its applications. Educating consumers is of paramount importance for NIHC. Customers are the bedrock of this revolution and consumers have the right to be safe. This means truth-in-labeling in this rapidly growing industry. There are a lot of confusing and contradicting claims and assertions. Farmers, manufacturers, retailers, financial institutions, suppliers, transporters, and consumers have the right to fact-based information. NIHC is cutting through the noise with its team and partners to provide its members and the public with this important information.



Board Chairman

Patrick Atagi is President and CEO of DA Farms in Nyssa, Oregon where he is a 3rd generation specialty crop farm owner. He served as Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Agriculture during the George W. Bush administration. Atagi is an experienced executive with a demonstrated history of working in the government relations industry. Atagi served as a Legislative Assistant under United States Senator Mark O. Hatfield (Oregon), then Chairman of the United States Senate Appropriations Committee.

Atagi is also the head of government affairs for NWPCA. He leads staff on policy analysis of regulatory and legislative issues. Atagi is responsible for obtaining, contracting, and managing outside expert consultants on industry issues. He builds and maintains coalitions with associations whose members use wood pallets and containers. He also assists members and strengthen their relationships with affiliated industry groups.

Atagi represents association positions in front of international, federal and state officials, industry groups, and other associations. Atagi has his State Government Affairs Professional Certificate from the State Government Affairs Council. He is skilled in managing nonprofit organizations, working with Board of Directors and Executive Committees, annual meeting management and planning, governmental affairs, and media/ communications. Atagi previously worked for the US Apple Association, UnitedFresh, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), been the Secretariat for the World Chlorine Council, and the American Chemistry Council.

Atagi is a strong business development professional and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and University of Maryland MBA program.



Thomas is an accomplished financial professional from Chicago, Illinois with 30+ years of international and domestic professional experience. Currently, he is Vice President, Corporate Controller of CEVA Logistics, N.A., in addition to providing financial consultancy services to clients through his company, TJS Consulting Services LLC. Prior to this, he held positions of Vice President Corporate Controller and Chief Accounting Officer with two publicly traded companies and served 13 years in financial leadership positions in Europe, Middle East, West Africa, and South America in the energy and professional services industries. His leadership in financial system implementation projects and related process enhancement and cost rationalization initiatives has netted savings in excess $11M per annum.

When Thomas is not working, he travels extensively and has visited approximately 40 countries, including living in five. He volunteers for a number of charitable organizations and most recently served a co-chair of the Ensemble Theater of Houston’s Founder’s Circle, which raised $250K.

Thomas is a graduate of the United Way of Greater Houston’s Project Blueprint, which prepares participants for board leadership positions of nonprofit companies. He also completed the Board Leadership Forum of Deloitte’s Center for Board Effectiveness in May 2018. Thomas is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and is a member of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). He holds an MBA in Management from the University of Texas, a BBA in Accountancy from the University of Notre Dame and is a Licensed Certified Public Accountant in the State of Illinois.


Hawks is an American politician, former civil servant, agricultural businessman, and founder and CEO of AgWorks Solutions, LLC. He graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in agricultural economics. He procured a Master of Science in the same field from the same university.

Hawks started farming after finishing graduate school by owning and operating a dairy in DeSoto County in far northwestern Mississippi. He then began to lease land from neighbors to get started in a row crop operation, often doing custom work for others. Over the years, this evolved into a multi-faceted operation.

Hawks was the managing partner of Hawks Farming, which farmed approximately 12,000 acres of land in three counties in northern Mississippi. This operation consisted of soybeans, double-cropped winter wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle. In the late 1980s, Hawks was a part owner in a professional farm management company, Sunbelt Land and Timber Company, Incorporated.

In December 1994, Hawks was elected to the Mississippi State Senate, representing DeSoto County. During his five years as a state senator, he was a leader on the committees with jurisdiction over agriculture and the environment. In 1999, he was the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi.

On May 24, 2001, during the George W. Bush administration, Hawks was sworn in as the Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs by United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman. Hawks served until 2005.

Throughout his career, he has been active in many agricultural boards and committees such as American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, the National Corn Growers Association, and many state and local organizations.


Patricia R. Sheikh is an international trade and development expert. Prior to joining Roots of Peace in May 2018 as Senior Vice President, Programs, she served as the Director of Agribusiness, Trade and Health for the Corporate Council on Africa. In this role, she was responsible for promoting trade and investment in these sectors between the United States and the nations of Africa for member CCA companies. Ms. Sheikh also served as Deputy Administrator, Office of Capacity Building and Development, Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA. As Deputy Administrator, Ms. Sheikh was in charge of the overall leadership of USDA’s global trade and development objectives and programs and oversaw all programming regarding the implementation of food assistance, trade capacity building, and agricultural development programs. Through her leadership, Ms. Sheikh helped developing countries around the world improve their agricultural systems thereby improving their standard of living and their capacity to engage in two-way trade. Prior to her work as Deputy Administrator of the Office of Capacity Building and Development, Ms. Sheikh was the Deputy Administrator of International Trade Policy, the World Cotton Coordinator, and a Trade Analyst at the Office of Foreign Economic Policy.

Ms. Sheikh holds a B.A. in History and Political Science with a minor in Economics from Notre Dame of Maryland University and an M.A. in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. She is a former member of the General Administration Board at the USDA Graduate School, served as an Advisory Board Member for the Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee University, The German Marshall Fund and Leadership Africa. Ms. Sheikh joined the Roots of Peace Board of Directors in October 2014. She currently serves on the Advisory Council of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Ms. Sheikh has numerous awards acknowledging her accomplishments, including the Presidential Meritorious Executive Award and the Presidential Rank Award.


Walt Smith is the Founder and President of The Mallard Group and is a Hays County Commissioner in Texas. Smith previously served as Congressional Liaison at the US Department of Agriculture in the Office of the Secretary -Office of Congressional Relations. Smith was the primary liaison for farm and conservation programs, trade, agricultural risk management, and research.

Smith has nearly two decades of experience working in both the government and government-relations field representing various clients before Congress, the administration, and state and local governments. He has worked with major land grant universities, national scientific societies, agricultural policy professionals, national trade associations, a top 50 law firm, chambers of commerce, municipalities and private businesses. Walt Smith has the designation as the number 17 “Rising Star” on the 2013 by Capitol Insider.

Prior to leaving Washington, Mr. Smith worked on Capitol Hill for members of the Texas Delegation, Appropriations and Agriculture Committee Members from Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and served as a liaison between USDA and other federal water agencies and departments.

Walt Smith has his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Science Development and Masters of Agriculture, Agricultural Development and Public Policy from Texas A&M.


Randel served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). While at USDA, Lowell also held the position of Director of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Research, Education and Economics Mission Area of USDA. Lowell founded The Randel Group and serves as legal representative for several associations. Randel also represents the Global Cold Chain Alliance as their Vice President, Government and Legal Affairs.

In addition to his public service, Lowell has extensive government affairs experience in the private sector. Prior to joining USDA, Lowell was Senior Associate for Meyers and Associates, a Washington based government relations firm. He also held the position of Assistant Legislative Director for AESOP Enterprises, an agriculture focused government relations firm in Washington. Lowell also has experience working in state government. He held the position of Coordinator of Trade and Federal Issues for the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).

Lowell holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and master’s degree in agricultural development, both from Texas A&M University. He also holds a law degree from George Mason University School of Law.

Specialties: Government relations, lobbying, agriculture, appropriations, regulations


Jason is a licensed attorney and MBA and began his career as an Intern at Lobbyit in 2014. One year later, he re-joined the firm in a full-time capacity as Manager of Legislative & Regulatory Analysis. During his time away from Lobbyit, Jason worked as a policy assistant at Monument Advocacy, a government relations firm with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle. In addition to his advocacy experience, Jason practiced law with a real estate due diligence law firm in Columbia, Maryland and served as a senior aide to a D.C.-city council campaign.

Since starting at Lobbyit as an unpaid intern, Jason has risen through the ranks to become Vice President, providing expert counsel and professional advocacy services to entities of varied backgrounds. He currently manages a portfolio of clients which includes many of the firm’s industry associations, directing their government relations strategies on a range of domestic and international priorities, such as healthcare, technology development, education, and labor law.

On behalf of his clients, Jason monitors all relevant legislative and regulatory activity in Washington and in many state legislatures across the country, produces in-depth analysis and strategic advice, and provides expertise on accessing federal government assistance through Congress and the Executive Branch. Additionally, Jason provides an invaluable presence within the firm’s business operations hierarchy; working in every aspect of the firm’s management activity, he oversees operations and vendor relationships, and assists in developing partnerships with industry stakeholders.

Mr. Ortega hails from Chattanooga, TN, and earned his BS in Business from Southern Adventist University, and his JD/MBA from The Ohio State University. He is licensed to practice law in Ohio.


Russell Laird

Advocacy Advisor

Kevin Latner

Vice President, Marketing

Alesha Gray

Strategic Communications Specialist

Stephanie Grove

Member Services

Michelle Umberger

Events Manager