Mitch Roth: Future Pathologist Promoting Sustainable Ag

Syngenta Agricultural Scholarship winner plans to use his agricultural roots to help feed the world.
Mitch Roth: Future Pathologist Promoting Sustainable Ag
Mitch Roth, like many children, didn’t love eating his vegetables when he was a boy. However, as this farmer’s son has grown older, he realizes just how lucky he was to have nutritious food on his plate.

“The real problems were exactly the ones my parents were trying to tell me about,” says Roth. “There truly are many starving people around the world, even in my neighborhood. Farmers work extremely hard to cultivate a strong crop, yet they are constantly at the mercy of Mother Nature. With the world population growing at a record-setting pace, changing these situations is not getting any easier.”

In 2014, Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization, found that 48.1 million Americans live in households that are struggling to put enough food on the table. As the world’s population continues to grow, farmers must produce enough food to feed 9 billion people by 2020. Roth plans to contribute to this effort.

Genetics and Disease Resistance

Last fall, Roth was the 2015 graduate student winner of the Syngenta Agricultural Scholarship because of his passion for sustainable agriculture and innovative outlook on its future.

The scholarship will help Roth earn his doctorate in genetics at Michigan State University. He is currently in his second year and working in the field crop pathology lab of Associate Professor Martin Chilvers, Ph.D. As part of his studies, Roth is investigating the genetic relationships between soybean and Fusarium virguliforme, the causal pathogen of sudden death syndrome.

“I’m fascinated by the genetics involved in disease resistance in crops,” he says, “and I’m excited to be working in this field.”

Roth’s ultimate goal is to develop more effective strategies for reducing or preventing disease symptoms and yield losses. He is confident that placing emphasis on plant pathology will generate momentum for more sustainable, plentiful food production.

Education at All Levels

While earning his undergraduate degree from Grand Valley State University in Michigan, Roth worked on his family’s farm, Roth Brothers Farm. He gained invaluable hands-on experience with several types of machinery, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. He understands that not all consumers have his on-farm experience and scientific education, but he believes that closing the knowledge gap can help eliminate unnecessary fear of genetic research.

“Not everyone can become an expert in agricultural biotechnology,” he says, “but I believe more can be done to bridge this gap.”

He envisions a world where consumers will have access to educational programs about DNA, the transfer of genes and the amount of testing required to bring a product to market. He also advocates for more constructive conversations about agricultural research from policymakers and people in the science community. Roth believes The Good Growth Plan from Syngenta, which addresses the critical challenges the world faces in feeding a growing population sustainably, will help jump-start these conversations.

“By providing educational outreach programs, The Good Growth Plan can eliminate unnecessary fear of genetic research and GMOs [genetically modified organisms] from the general population,” he says.

Roth has been deeply rooted in agriculture since his childhood. His passion and continuing education, which the Syngenta Agricultural Scholarship will help fund, are assets that will make him an even stronger contributor to the future of modern farming.

“I’m honored to be awarded this scholarship,” he says. “It means even more coming from a company like Syngenta.”