Graduate Student Selected to Attend USDA’s 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum

Holly Mayton is a first-year Ph.D. student in chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside

Holly Mayton is a first-year Ph.D. student in chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside. Photo courtesy of H. Mayton.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Holly Mayton, a first-year Ph.D. student in chemical and environmental engineering at the University of California, Riverside, is one of only 30 university students selected to attend the USDA’s 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum titled “Smart Agriculture in the 21st Century.” The forum will be held Feb. 19-20, 2015, in Arlington, Va.

The USDA chose 20 university juniors and seniors based on an essay sharing their thoughts on “Agriculture as a Career.” Additionally, 10 graduate students were chosen based on their essay, “The Greatest Challenge Facing Agriculture over the Next Five Years.”

In her essay, Mayton argues that managing the risk of foodborne illness outbreaks that result from increasingly centralized agricultural production is the greatest challenge facing agriculture over the next five years. She adds that the rapidly growing global population has made commercial agriculture a necessity to meet the increasing food demands, but when it comes to foodborne pathogens, centralized processing may make the difference between a few sick people and a full-fledged national or international outbreak.

“From my personal experience working on farms in the U.S. and Central America, I’ve seen that growers face many challenges every day as it is, making it difficult to expect them to spend additional time and money to assure the safety of their products,” said Mayton, whose advisor is Sharon Walker, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering and the John Babbage Chair in Environmental Engineering. “Ultimately, solutions may come in the form of promoting good agricultural and manufacturing sanitation practices, consumer education, improved access to local food, and further research on the spread of foodborne pathogens.”

USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum Student Diversity Program is designed to introduce students to contemporary agribusiness, future trends, scientific research, and agricultural policy in today’s real world environment.

Mayton will be joined at the Agricultural Outlook Forum by nine graduate students from the following universities: Washington State University; University of Maryland College Park; Humboldt State University; Tennessee State University; Southern Illinois University – Carbondale; University of Arizona; Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and University of Vermont.

“The Outlook Forum,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “will help give these students the chance to lay the groundwork for their future, hear speakers from diverse backgrounds in ag-related professions and, like previous program winners, the Forum will help the students expand their opportunities in their chosen fields.”

Mayton is most excited for the opportunity to collaborate with policymakers, producers, government and industry leaders on the most important issues in agriculture today, and to identify and share ways that scientific research can lead to the solutions.

“I hope to apply what I learn to my own research on the fate and transport of foodborne pathogens in aquatic environments,” she said.

Registration for the public, two-day event is $450. Plenary speeches will be webcast after 3:00 p.m. PST on Feb. 19. Program details and registration information are available at

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