Austin, TX – Sarah Holladay, an agronomy student in Clemson’s Plant and Environmental Science department, placed first in the graduate student competition at the Cotton Improvement Conference, one of the ten Cotton Beltline Conferences that were held on Jan. 8-10, 2020.

Sarah Holladay

Sarah Holladay

Holladay’s oral presentation was titled “Identifying Accessions and Management Practices for the Production of Pima Cotton in South Carolina.” An accession is a group of related plant materials from a single species collected at the same time from a specific location.

Holladay began her research at Clemson in the summer of 2018, after graduating from Francis Marion University in Fall 2017 with a degree in biology. She was inspired to study agronomy after interning for one of her co-advisors, Todd Campbell, at Clemson’s Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence.

The Cotton Beltline Conferences meet annually to discuss research and to supply cotton producers with the latest technology and information on the crop. The three-day event hosts panel discussions, seminars, workshops, and student competitions to promote and enhance cotton productivity. The Cotton Improvement Conference provides a platform where breeding and genetics researchers can share their advances in the field.

“It was a great place to network and learn what everyone else who works in cotton across the country is doing in their research,” Holladay said.

Holladay is working to understand the economic potential of cultivating Pima cotton in the SC upstate. Pima’s higher fiber quality sets its worth at nearly twice as much per pound of lint as Upland cotton.

“I hope through my research that we can get a better understanding of Pima’s success in our state,” she said.

In reward for her exceptional presentation, Holladay won a $300 Visa gift card, which she plans to spend on a new laptop for her thesis writing and data analysis.

She said she wants to pursue a PhD in Agronomy after she completes her master’s in August 2020, but she has also considered working with the USDA Agricultural Research Service or some other research facility.

Sarah Holladay, a Clemson University master's student, presents a poster about her pima cotton study at the 2019 National Association of Plant Breeders conference in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Sarah Holladay, a Clemson University master’s student, is studying the viability of pima cotton in South Carolina.
Image Credit: Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences

Todd Campbell, a research geneticist with USDA-ARS and one of Holladay’s former internship advisors, called it “the ultimate reward” to see his students succeed and earn recognition for their achievements.

“Sarah’s biggest strength is her ability to communicate with others. Interpersonal communication skills are sorely needed in the scientific community and Sarah has a knack for communicating her science to a variety of end-users whether they are scientists, farmers, or citizens,” he said.

Michael Jones, an Extension cotton specialist with the Pee Dee REC, praised Holladay for matching her intelligence with her originality:

“She is an extremely hard-worker, very intelligent and dedicated to succeed, but one attribute that differs from most students is that she is extremely creative.”