AMARILLO – Dr. John Sweeten, center director at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo for the past 21 years, will hang up the many different caps he wears, retiring after 45 years of service to the Texas A&M University System.
In addition to his Amarillo duties, Sweeten was tasked with leading the AgriLife center in Vernon in 2008, at which time he began developing joint or complementing programs between the two centers. He also had a joint appointment with West Texas A&M University in Canyon for many years as a professor of agricultural engineering.
Sweeten came to Amarillo as a nationally recognized environmental systems engineer who specialized in air and water quality management from confined animal feeding operations after spending 24 years with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in College Station.
He also served as the associate department head of the Texas A&M biological and agricultural engineering department on campus for about five years during that time.
“It has been an honor to work with a man whose commitment to Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension programs in the Panhandle has had a major impact on the present and future success and long-term sustainability of Texas agriculture and the rural economy,” said Dr. Craig Nessler, AgriLife Research director in College Station.
Sweeten has worked nearly continuously with groups such as the Texas Wheat Producers Board, Texas Corn Producers Board, Texas Sorghum Producers Board, Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas Association of Dairymen, Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Pork Producers Association and the region’s groundwater conservation districts.
He served as a member and chair of a variety of commodity-related committees, and as the higher education representative on the Panhandle Regional Water Planning Group since its inception in 1999.
Chairing the Small Grains Advisory Committee for many years, he helped write the statewide strategic plan. Additionally, he helped establish the Corn Advisory Committee and write the Corn Production and Improvement Strategy to address major issues for producers in Texas in coordination with AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension programs.
He also served as project director for two federal initiatives: Air Quality: Odor, Dust and Gaseous Emissions from Cattle Feedlots and Dairies, and the Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability Using Biomass from Dairy and Beef Animal Production Facilities.
Sweeten was selected to serve for three consecutive terms on the national Agricultural Air Quality Task Force, which advised the Secretary of Agriculture on issues related to agricultural air quality, including strengthening and coordinating U.S. Department of Agriculture research efforts and identifying cost-effective ways for the agricultural industry to improve air quality.
Sweeten is a co-creator of the Cooperative Research, Education and Extension Team, or CREET, which involves faculty and leadership with AgriLife Research, AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Lab, West Texas A&M University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service at Bushland. Most recently, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences has been added to the group.
“CREET has given us an amazing platform to address complex multi-disciplinary issues and incorporate other universities in selected programs for the advancement of knowledge and betterment of stakeholder opportunities,” Sweeten said.
Sweeten also has served as a member of the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce Agriculture Council, where he promoted agriculture and the AgriLife Research legislative initiatives during Panhandle/High Plains Days in Austin and DC Days in Washington, D.C.
Within Amarillo, he also served on the Harrington Regional Medical Center board of directors for many years.
Among his honors and awards are the Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Award for administration, the national Distinguished Achievement Award from Epsilon Sigma Phi, an Environmental Excellence Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an Environmental Excellence Award from the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, and being named a Fellow and recipient of the G.B. Gunlogson Countryside Engineering Award from the American Society of Biological and Agricultural Engineers.
Most recently, he was named the 2015 Texas Wheat Man of the Year by the Texas Wheat Producers Board.
“We want to thank Dr. Sweeten for his belief in collaboration, cooperation and sharing to get things done for the good of our constituents,” Nessler said. “He worked hard to join together the brightest minds this region had to offer in the areas of small grains research, environmental research and soil and water conservation.
“We would like to thank Dr. Sweeten for all he has given to us and of himself for the betterment of the agriculture industry in this region, state and nation.”
Sweeten said he has enjoyed working with the many different leaders, faculty, staff and stakeholders over the years and being a part of some very creative and important research along the way.
“Amarillo-based research faculty have made remarkable advancements in beef cattle nutrition and health, environmental quality, water management, wheat breeding and genetics, plant disease and insect management, crop stress physiology and alternative cropping systems,” he said.
“Amarillo has been an outstanding place to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and support staff to leverage grants that extend research capabilities and accomplishments far beyond the state funding afforded by AgriLife Research. Interagency and producer cooperation continues to be tremendous.”
Sweeten said the next chapter in his life will include a move that will allow closer proximity and a greater investment of time and energy into family members, as well as a modest Texas Hill Country ranching operation. He also intends to enjoy a measured amount of professional involvement and engineering consulting opportunities as they may arise.