During her 34-year career with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Dr. Martha Rhodes Roberts has contributed to Florida’s agriculture industry as a scientific authority, industry counselor, strategist, and partner in the endeavors of Florida producers. In her current capacity as deputy commissioner, Dr. Roberts’ responsibilities include food safety, pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, agricultural water policy, soil and water conservation, animal feeds, aquaculture and the dairy and animal industries.
Dr. Roberts was born in Oxford, Mississippi, on August 11, 1939. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology summa cum laud from North Georgia College in 1960 and a master’s degree in 1961 from the University of Georgia, where she also earned a doctorate in microbiology in 1965.
She began her career with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a microbiologist/chemist in the Food Laboratory in 1968-1970 and as assistant chief from 1970-1972. She became chief of the Food Laboratory as well as assistant commissioner of agriculture in1984 and remained in those positions until 1991 when she was appointed deputy commissioner of food safety.
She has participated in and been appointed to federal advisory groups, dozens of committees, workshops and associations, providing technical or strategic input to, among others, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She served as president of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (comprised of all states, FDA and USDA). She was instrumental in organizing the Conference for Food Protection, a national body to set food safety standards for all states. Her accomplishments are many and varied, and have included making possible federal support of critical pest eradication programs and being instrumental in gaining cooperation and Environmental Protection Agency approval to use chemicals necessary to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly during the 1997-1998 infestation.
By serving as a prominent authority on food safety issues, Dr. Roberts enables producers, packers and processors to minimize food contamination and ensure the highest quality products for consumers. As a member of the Institute of Food Technologists’ Science Advisory Board, she provided extensive input regarding the group’s scientific review and analysis of issues in food safety, food processing and human health.
She also spearheaded the formation of the Suwannee River Basin Nutrient Management Working Group, a 26-member public-private partnership formed to assess nutrient loadings to the Suwannee River Watershed and effect reductions via voluntary, incentive-based programs.
Dr. Roberts directed development and implementation of the Commissioner of Agriculture’s Ag-Environmental Leadership Awards Program, now in its ninth year, that annually recognizes practices used by Florida’s growers and ranchers to protect wildlife, manage pesticides and nutrients, protect water quality, and conserve soil and water. In 1996, she envisioned the creation of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and today it remains the only water policy office housed within a state.