Florida Department of Agriculture

Adam Putnam, state commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, has named Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts the 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture.

Martha Rhodes Roberts

Martha Rhodes Roberts, 2017 Woman of the Year in Agriculture. / Contributed

Dr. Roberts dedicated 35 years 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 Putnam. “During her tenure with the department, Dr. Roberts advanced Florida agriculture.”

Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts was born in Oxford, Miss., and later moved to Gainesville, Ga., where she attended Blue Ridge High School and participated in the 4-H Club. Roberts graduated summa cum laude from North Georgia College and continued her studies at the University of Georgia, where she earned her master’s degree in bacteriology and 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 — the first woman in the U.S. to hold this position. From 1991 to 2003, she served as the department’s deputy commissioner and played a pinnacle role in shaping agricultural policies to improve practices in each stage of production.

Worked for UF/IFAS

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’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).

Throughout her career, Dr. Roberts served in leadership capacities for numerous organizations. 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 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Martha Rhodes 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. Dr. Roberts will receive the award during the 2018 Florida State Fair in Tampa.