Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam recently announced that Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts has been named the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. Dr. Roberts dedicated 35 years of service to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, where she championed policy changes for the advancement of Florida's agriculture industry, trade and production practices. The award, now in its 33rd year, recognizes women who have made outstanding contributions to Florida agriculture.
“I'm honored to name Dr. Roberts the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture,” said Commissioner Adam H. Putnam. “During her tenure with the department, Dr. Roberts advanced Florida agriculture.”
Dr. Roberts was born in Oxford, Mississippi, and later moved to Gainesville, Georgia, where she attended Blue Ridge High School and participated in the 4-H Club. Roberts graduated summa cum laude from North Georgia College, and she continued her studies at the University of Georgia, where she earned her master's degree in bacteriology, a Ph.D. in microbiology and public health postdoctoral studies.
Dr. Roberts joined the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Food Safety in 1968 as a Microbiologist/Chemist. She was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture in 1984, and was the first woman in the United States to hold this position. From 1991 to 2003, Dr. Roberts served as the department's Deputy Commissioner and played a pinnacle role in shaping agricultural policies to improve practices in each stage of production. Beginning in 2003, Dr. Roberts served 13 years as Director of Industry Relations and then as Special Assistant for Government Affairs for the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Throughout her career, Dr. Roberts served in leadership capacities for numerous organizations, including: President of the Association of Food and Drug Officials, Chairman of the Conference for Food Protection, the FDA Food Advisory Committee and the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods, the University of Florida International Trade and Policy Center Board of Directors, the Farm Foundation, Food Foresight and Chair of the Feeding Tomorrow Foundation. She has served on the Board of the Center for Produce Safety since its inception in 2007, and currently serves as a consultant with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture on FSMA implementation with the FDA.
Dr. Roberts has received numerous awards from the FDA, USDA and industry associations. In recognition of her lasting contributions to the agriculture industry, Dr. Roberts was inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2003. She continues to support Florida agriculture as a scientific authority, industry counselor and advocate.
The Woman of the Year in Agriculture award is sponsored by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Florida State Fair Authority, and the award will be presented to the recipient during the 2018 Florida State Fair in Tampa.