Randy C. Ploetz was born in Gastonia, NC, where his father pitched for a minor league baseball team. He graduated from Purdue University in 1974 with a B.Sc. degree in forestry and in 1976 with a M.Sc. degree in plant pathology. In 1984, he received a Ph.D. degree in plant pathology from the University of Florida and, in 1986, joined the faculty at the university’s Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, where he was promoted to professor in 1996.
Ploetz’s primary research responsibilities are on diseases of tropical fruits, many of which are important commercial crops in southern Florida. This position involves significant work overseas, where he advises students and research projects, participates in and organizes scientific meetings, assesses new disease outbreaks and the status of other important problems, and consults for international agencies and producers. He has ongoing collaborations in several countries and has worked in 34 since 1990 (Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Peru, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Taiwan, Thailand, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom). Ploetz has been an invited plenary speaker at 37 international conferences and symposia, has advised 15 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, and served two consecutive terms as chair of the Fusarium Wilt Working Group of the CGIAR’s International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain.
Ploetz is a world authority on tropical fruit diseases, on which he has written more than 300 publications. He edited two books, Fusarium Wilt of Banana and Compendium of Tropical Fruit Diseases, for APS PRESS and another for CAB International, Diseases of Tropical Fruit Crops, which is now a standard reference. He is currently writing a two-volume book for Springer-Verlag, Tropical Plant Pathology, which will be a current and comprehensive update of this important topic. He has been interviewed often on tropical disease problems, most recently during scares on the extinction of banana and the increasing and serious impact of diseases on cacao (chocolate) production (e.g., the Discovery channel, NPR Canada, and Ira Flatow’s Science Friday). Ploetz received the University of Florida Research Foundation Professor Award in 2004.
Ploetz has served APS in diverse capacities. He has filled several roles in the Office of International Programs (OIP). As director (2004–2007), he initiated translations of lessons on the Education Center to different languages, actively sought participation by young professionals in OIP, and developed the Sister Society Initiative (SSI). The SSI has morphed into an ad hoc committee that evaluates current and future international societal, publishing, and assistance activities of APS. As chair of this committee, he was part of a recent APS delegation to Beijing that started a relationship with the Chinese Society of Plant Pathology. This developing relationship will serve as a model for future interactions with other societies. Ploetz has written frequent articles in Phytopathology News to inform members of international activities, most recently the OIP News and Views column. And as past chair of OIP’s awards committee, he prepared the nominations for 16 individuals for APS awards; 11 of these were successful (seven Fellow and four International Service Awards).
Ploetz was on the APS PRESS Editorial Board for 8 years (1995–2002), from 2000 to 2002 as editor-in-chief and from 1995 to 2000 as a senior editor (in 1999–2000 he also served as the new liaison with the Office of Electronic Communications). He served on APS Council, the APS Financial Advisory Committee, and the APS Publications Board while editor-in-chief and chaired the Publications Board in 2002. He was an associate editor for Phytopathology and served on the Classics Committee and the Tropical Plant Pathology Committee and served as a member and chair of the Soil Microbiology & Root Disease Committee. He is a former president of the Florida Phytopathological Society and founding editor of the newsletter of that society and is a former vice president and managing editor for refereed papers for the Florida State Horticultural Society.