Obituary Prof. Dr. Rudolf Heitefuß

Obituary Prof. Dr. Rudolf Heitefuß (1928-2020)

On October 3, 2020, Rudolf Heitefuß, long-time director of the Institute of Plant Pathology and Plant Protection at the University of Göttingen, passed away.

Rudolf Heitefuß took over the management of the Institute with his appointment as Full Professor of Plant Pathology and Plant Protection in 1972 and worked here until his retirement in spring 1994. While the scientific work in his early career focussed physiological phytopathology and host-pathogen relationships, at the peak of this career his interest was directed towards applied integrated crop protection. He was one of the first scientists to work on interactions between herbicides, fungicides and insecticides and their combined effects on pests, diseases and weeds. Already in the 1970s he started to suspect the rationality of a weed-free field and thus, established a research group on economic thresholds for weeds. Until his retirement the full area of this research around weeds, thresholds, herbicides and the interactions became very successful. Today, in Germany, his name is deeply connected with Integrated Weed Management. Many students and post-docs started their career in this area and they still perform a stable network in science, advice, industries and farming.

It was more than logic that he became member of the EWRS and took over leading responsibilities. From 1984 until his retirement in 1994 he coordinated the Working Group Weeds, Pest, Disease Interactions – perfectly fitting to his competences and research interests. Already in this time he inspired EWRS-members to think beyond weeds and herbicides. During these years, interdisciplinary thinking was not strongly developed, but he was foreseeing the importance to consider the whole agro-ecosystem for an environmentally responsible crop protection.

In Germany his engagement resulted in a number of honours. He was awarded the Otto Appel Memorial Coin of the German Society on Plant Protection and Plant Health in 1996. He also bears the Prof. Niklas Medal in silver, the Max Eyth Memorial Coin in silver and the Thaer-Thünen Medal in silver. Finally and consequently his life's work was honoured in 2006 with the Federal Cross of Merit 1st Class.

After his retirement he never stopped to follow research on IPM and IWM. He more and more joked about experiments and thoughts being repeated and repeated – but he never lost optimism and interest in the future. The last years he lived on the farm of his daughter and her family, which enriched his daily routine and allowed him to have the daily conversations that he liked so much. Being embedded in a big family was a blessing – especially in the crazy year 2020. In August his son contacted me to come and visit him. We had a coffee and the lemon cake he’d always loved. We talked about weed economic thresholds - as always. It was a pleasure. One month ago, in September he send me a collection of his speeches and essays from three decades on “Problems and perspectives of crop protection in an environmentally responsible agriculture”. I am very happy about this last piece of memory, impressed about his foreseeing messages and at the same time ashamed about the small visible success towards the perspectives even now, again 20 years later.

The weed community in Germany and Europe lost a wise teacher and colleague. His personal style of never stepping in front to attract attendance, rather leaving the floor to the “young” ones was exceptionally encouraging. This fair and thoughtful style which he cultivated with all his students made him to some extent immortal through the network he centred for five decades. I am sure this network will continue. Our special sympathy goes to his children, children-in-law and grandchildren.

Bärbel Gerowitt (EWRS President 2016-17)

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