COLLEGE STATION – Thomas Marek, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research agricultural engineer in Amarillo and registered Texas professional engineer, has been named a Regents Fellow by the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
The award was presented Feb. 10 at the 2014-2015 Regents Awards Reception and Dinner on the Texas A&M campus in College Station.
The Board established the Regents Fellow Service Awards in 1998 to recognize employees who have made exemplary contributions to their university or agency and to the people of Texas.
Marek has truly made a difference with his work of the past 42 years at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo, said Dr. John Sweeten, resident director at the Amarillo center.
“Thomas is an extremely hard-working and conscientious engineer who displays in-depth engineering skills in irrigation system design, irrigation water management, crop water use, micrometeorological measurements at remote locations and design of research instrumentation facilities,” Sweeten said in his nomination.
“He is frequently called on to teach other investigators at research locations from South Texas to Colorado and Arizona,” Sweeten continued. “He is also one of a few engineers with the skills and talent who can build and operate what he designs.”
Marek’s results have literally reached around the world, according to his nomination. For the last 26 years, he has served as research project leader and principal investigator on irrigation water management, crop water-use efficiency and evapotranspiration in the Panhandle region of the Texas High Plains.
“Thomas is known by many of his colleagues as ‘an engineer’s engineer,’ possessing broad-based practical engineering expertise and skills that enable him to design, build, maintain and use structures, machinery and electrical systems, and conduct any and all field operations on a commercial-scale research farm, while leading his own highly successful agricultural irrigation research program,” said Dr. Dana Porter, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agricultural engineer at Lubbock, in a letter of support.
Marek’s long-term work has been aimed at the reduction of irrigation levels while maintaining profitability, according to the nomination. His work directly resulted in a typical water savings of 2 inches per acre per year and has yielded regional water savings of over 185,000 acre-feet or 60 billion gallons per year, according to his nomination. The result is pumping costs for producers have been reduced by more than $18 million annually.
A longtime colleague captured the essence of his career by saying, “Thomas has been working with colleagues in the United States and around the world, providing strong leadership to explore and develop good quality research results and recommendations on new management tools and/or improving existing options to help sustain agricultural production under both irrigated and dryland settings.”
Highlights from the years of Marek’s engineering research outlined in his nomination include:
– The development and assessment of converting high-pressure impact sprinkler systems to lower pressure systems in the Texas Panhandle and throughout the Central Great Plains. These conversions have saved irrigated producers millions in energy costs over time.
– Co-designed and fabricated large, weighing, monolithic lysimeters in conjunction with Dr. Terry Howell at the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service laboratory near Bushland. This development provided advanced state-of-the-art irrigation research and helped determine the most accurate regional crop water-use values known to date.
– Co-developed the North Plains Evapotranspiration Network for use by irrigated producers of northern Texas, and later, headed the merger with the South Plains network to form the Texas High Plains Evapotranspiration Network. This dissemination effort put crop water use data in the hands of irrigated producers on a daily basis for over 20 years.
– Served as superintendent for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research North Plains Research Field near Etter where he oversaw research irrigation and project compliance issues along with production operations for over 20 state and federal projects at the facility annually. These efforts provided advanced research directly applicable to producers and in association with Dr. Wenwei Xu, AgriLife Research corn breeder at Lubbock, developed some of the most water-use efficient and field-tested corn germplasm to date.
– Senior irrigation engineer involved in Texas’ Senate Bill 1 “Region A” evaluating water planning and agricultural demand for the next 50–year horizon in Texas, leading to the development of a new irrigation water demand methodology for water planning purposes for Senate Bill 2. This methodology has been used in all of Region A’s water planning cycles to date and has set the current standard for model accuracy in irrigation demand for agricultural production in the Texas High Plains.
– The conversion of some cropland from high water-use corn to the lower water requirement of cotton has conserved valuable groundwater resources while maintaining producer profitability, and includes continued work toward much improved water-efficient and heat-tolerant corn hybrids with the Texas A&M AgriLife corn program.
Marek earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural engineering from Texas A&M. He is a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the Texas Agricultural Irrigation Association. He also has been nominated for the grade of Fellow in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.