About Us

WHO WE ARE

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 OF DIRECTORS

PATRICK ATAGI

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 SLOAN

Secretary/Treasurer

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.

BILL HAWKS

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.

JOHN JOHNSON

John Johnson is the principal of Agricola, LLC, an agriculture consulting firm advising on farm to fork issues.   He is also the former Chief Operating Officer for the National Pork Board in Des Moines, Iowa. In that role, he was responsible for providing strategic support to the Chief Executive Officer, overseeing organizational goal setting and accountability measurements and facilitating cross-departmental coordination. 

Johnson was also responsible for directing high-level, cross-functional projects that required engagement and direction from the Board of Directors at the National Pork Board and its senior leadership team. He served as a member of the leadership team and served as the primary contact with USDA.

Prior to joining the National Pork Board in 2009, Johnson served seven years as an appointee of President George W. Bush to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) as the Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs in Washington, D.C. He was responsible for administering the nation’s farm subsidy programs, disaster assistance programs, the Conservation Reserve Program, and the Tobacco Buyout Program.

Prior to joining FSA, Johnson served in senior leadership positions at several agricultural organizations.

He grew up on a family farm in New Jersey. Johnson and his wife Kathryn have two grown daughters, Lauren and Carla.

LOWELL RANDEL

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

PATRICIA SHEIKH

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

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.

ROBERT M. WHITE

Bob White currently serves as the Director of National Government Relations for Indiana Farm Bureau where he is responsible for keeping the Indiana Congressional Delegation abreast of INFB policy.  In 2017 White was chosen to be on the AFBF farm bill working group whose task it was to help shape the possible outcomes of the current farm bill. This is the sixth farm bill that White has worked on.

Bob grew up on his family farm in northwest Indiana and attended Purdue University where he earned both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in Agricultural Mechanization.

Starting out, Bob served a variety of roles in his seven years with the Farm Credit System, achieving professional status as a farm manager and rural appraiser with the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Early in his career, Bob participated in the Indiana Agricultural Leadership Program where he spent two years discussing agriculture and rural policy in the U.S. and abroad at the University of Krakow following the end of communist rule.  He joined Indiana Farm Bureau for the first time in 1996 as Director of Natural Resources where he gained experience in grassroots development at the local, state and national levels.

In 1998 Bob moved to Washington D.C. where he served as a senior policy staff member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee. Then three years later, Senator Richard Lugar nominated and President Bush appointed him to serve as the Indiana State Director of USDA Rural Development.  In that role Bob oversaw an $8 million annual budget and was responsible for a variety of loan and grant programs which invested nearly $4 billion in rural Indiana during his tenure.  During this time, Bob also spent time working in the EU on agricultural issues on detail from USDA.

Later in his career, Bob was founder and CEO of WRW & Associates, a consulting company who assisted rural communities and agriculture producers in changing their paradigm of rural economic business development.

Bob rejoined Farm Bureau in 2012 and became Director of National Government Relations in 2016.

For his efforts in assisting agriculture and rural Hoosiers, Bob was honored with the Sagamore of the Wabash award, the highest honor given to an individual in the state of Indiana.

Bob still owns and manages his family farm. He and his wife, Melina reside in Greensburg, Indiana with their three rescued dogs.

JASON ORTEGA

Jason Ortega is a government relations professional at Lobbyit, a boutique lobbying firm situated on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Jason initially joined Lobbyit as an Intern in the fall of 2014, and though he spent the following year away from Lobbyit to serve as a Policy Assistant at Monument Advocacy, he returned to Lobbyit in 2015 to direct resource management activities and assist with client engagement. 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 candidate running for an open seat on the D.C. City Council.

Jason has risen through the ranks at Lobbyit and is now a Vice President, providing expert counsel and professional advocacy services to a diverse grouping of organizations. He is currently responsible for a broad portfolio of clients, including industry associations, institutions of higher education, and corporations, directing their government relations strategies on a range of domestic and international priorities. Working collaboratively with his clients, Jason engages our nation’s leaders in Washington to address policy shortcomings affecting his clients and their respective constituencies. His efforts have resulted in the passage of legislation and alterations to Executive Branch regulation and administrative policy and have established strong bipartisan relationships throughout Capitol Hill. In addition to his legislative and regulatory responsibilities, Jason provides a strong presence within the firm’s business operations hierarchy, working in every aspect of the firm’s management from business development activities to managing strategic partnerships.

In addition to his work at Lobbyit and his role at NIHC, for the past three years, Jason has been an engaged and proud member of the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia. He currently serves as a Co-Chair of the Association’s Legislative and Policy Issues Committee.

Jason hails from Chattanooga, TN, and earned his BS in Business from Southern Adventist University, and his JD/MBA from The Ohio State University. He currently resides in Southeast D.C. and is an avid world traveler and photographer.

DOUG FARQUHAR, J.D

Doug Farquhar is an attorney with close to 30 year’s experience working with policy makers on environmental and health issues. Primarily working with state legislatures, he has testified 53 times before legislative committees in 32 states, in addition to consulting with state agency staff in every state on enlightening state policy makers. He has written books and articles on state legislative policy and is a columnist for the National Environmental Health Journal.

For the past 21 years, Mr. Farquhar has directed the Environmental Health Program at the National Conference of State Legislatures. This program performs legislative analysis and outreach on state and federal environmental, health and trade laws; focusing on the delegation and authorization of federal and state laws; and provides legal and technical assistance to state legislators and agency staff on state, federal and international environmental, environmental health, and trade policies. He also provides testimony before state legislative committees and task forces; reviews and comments on legislation and regulations, drafts memos, articles and books on state environmental health policies; and represents state interests before federal and international bodies.

As director of Environmental Health he works closely with federal counterparts at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

Prior to coming to NCSL, Doug worked in the Texas House of Representatives for the Natural Resources and Appropriations Committees and for Congressman Schaefer on Capitol Hill in Washington. He received his law degree from the University of Denver (DU) and undergraduate from the University of Texas in Austin. He is adjunct professor in the DU graduate school of Environmental Policy and Management and at the Colorado School of Public Health.

OUR STAFF

Larry Farnsworth

Senior Vice President, Communications and Marketing

Farnsworth is a former Capitol Hill veteran and leadership staffer. With over 20 years’ experience in developing communications strategies, his campaigns have been recognized by industry peers and cited as best practices in how to use the media to influence policy. ​

Russell Laird

Senior Vice President, Public Affairs

Laird has extensive government relations and issues management experience. He has managed issue portfolios on and off of Capitol Hill for a variety of industry interests, most recently serving on the transition team for the current administration at USDA. ​

Kevin Latner

Senior Vice President, Trade

Latner is an executive leader, change strategist and former US diplomat. He has been in international agriculture and marketing for over 30 years delivering organizational leadership and operational excellence as a senior government, association and private sector leader. ​

Michelle Umberger

Director of Events

NIHC relies on Michelle Umberger as their trusted event and marketing manager. In 2019, she coordinated and sold out the first ever National Industrial Hemp Council Business Summit. Within the last 5 years, she has put on over 30 meetings and events in the hemp, boating, sailing, and marina industry.

Beau Whitney

Chief Economist

Whitey’s expertise on elasticity of cannabis demand, multiplier effects, pricing and inventory modeling as well as the modeling of illicit to legal consumer conversions, and the economic impact on jobs and taxes in the cannabis industry have been recognized throughout the economics community. His expertise on elasticity of cannabis demand, multiplier effects, pricing and inventory modeling as well as the modeling of illicit to legal consumer conversions, and the economic impact on jobs and taxes in the cannabis industry have been recognized throughout the economics community.

OUR STAFF

Russell Laird

Vice President, Public Affairs

Kevin Latner

Vice President, Marketing

Michelle Umberger

Events Manager

Reid Champlin

Communications Manager