Mark was born in Ohio in 1866, and was raised and educated in Kansas. Mark was a wheat specialist, and at the time he came to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, scientists were predicting that human population increases would outstrip wheat supplies by 1931 unless ways were found to increase production. Mark set out to avert the crisis.
He went to Russia in 1898 to search for high-yield, drought and rust resistant wheat varieties that could be grown more widely in the United States than traditional types. In 1899, he brought back Kubanca, a wheat that one observer said could grow in hell. Instead, it eventually found a home in the Great Plains where it marked the beginning of the United States durum wheat industry.
A year later Mark returned to Russia, coming home this time with a hard winter wheat called Kharkov. Yet, simply introducing new wheat varieties wasn’t enough. Hard winter wheat, for example, first came to the United States with Mennonite immigrants in the 1870s, but it never caught on with Americans.
So Mark began a relentless campaign to convince growers, millers, and consumers of the advantages of his discoveries. And he succeeded, thus guaranteeing himself a place in American agricultural history. But he didn’t stop there.
As head of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Cereal Investigation--a post awarded him soon after his return from Russia--he introduced the Swedish select oat and experimented with the "sixty-day oat," which became the general-purpose variety planted in the U.S. He brought winter barley cultivation to the Midwest and advocated dry farming in the Texas Panhandle.
Mark left the Department in 1918. He spent most of the next seven years working in Central and South America, dying in Peru on April 26, 1925.
He was elected to the Washington Biologists’ Field Club in 1901 and terminated his membership in 1905.