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in memoriam - Prof. R.R. van der Ploeg (1941-2005)

Prof. R.R. van der Ploeg (1941-2005)

Rienk R. van der Ploeg, professor of Soil Science at the University of Hannover in Germany, passed away on 04 Sep. 2005. He was born on 26 Sept. 1941 in rural Holwerd, a town in the province of Friesland in the northern part of the Netherlands. He received his B.S. degree in

Geology from the University of Groningen in 1962. He was awarded a Molengraaff grant in 1962 to study the tertiary geology of Crete. In 1967, he obtained an M.S. degree in Soil Science and Geology from the University of Utrecht. His advisor at the University of Utrecht was Dr. F.A. van Baren, former Secretary-General of the International Soil Science Society. As a soil scientist and geologist he worked in Italy and France. In 1967, Dr. van der Ploeg transferred from the Netherlands to the USA, where he earned both M.S. (in 1970) and Ph.D. (1972) degrees in Soil Physics from Iowa State University. His advisor at ISU was Dr. Don Kirkham. In 1973, Dr. van der Ploeg received the Emil Truog Soil Science Award of the Soil Science Society of America, “in recognition of outstanding research in soil science as evidenced by his doctoral dissertation.”

In 1972, Dr. van der Ploeg joined the Institute of Soil Science and Forest Nutrition of the University of Goettingen in the former West Germany. There he worked as a soil hydrologist on a forest ecology research team, headed by Dr. Bernhard Ulrich and Dr. Paul Benecke. Also in Goettingen he earned (in 1979) his Dr. habil. (Habilitation) degree, which qualified him for a professorship at a German university. In 1981, he accepted the position of professor of Soil Physics at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart. From here he moved to Hannover in 1991. After the reunion of East and West Germany in 1990, Dr. van der Ploeg volunteered to serve from 1992 to 1995 at the Martin-Luther-University of Halle-Wittenberg in the former East Germany as a guest professor of Soil Science. He returned to Hannover in 1995.

Dr. van der Ploeg’s research interests were spread over a wide field and reflected the different positions he held during his career. They include agricultural drainage, the water regime of forest and agricultural soils, soil nitrate as a source of groundwater contamination, the history of agronomy, the impact of agriculture on the environment, and later, farm policy. In recent publications he advocated for a change in the German farm policy of high subsidies, which further agricultural overproduction and damage the environment and human health through obesity. He believed that farmers should be paid not only for producing ample high-quality food, but also for affiliated services to society, such as maintaining and improving soil, water, and air quality, protecting nature, nursing the landscape, and preserving the attractiveness and recreational value of the countryside. His most recent work dealt with compaction of soil due to heavy farm machinery. Heavy trucks are not allowed on many German interstates; but for arable fields no weight limits exist. He urged his federal government to limit the weight of farm machinery.

He was the author or co-author of more than 160 publications. Among them are many articles in the Soil Science Society of America Journal and two contributions to ASA/CSSA/SSSA (American Society of Agronomy / Crop Science Society of America / Soil Science Society of America) monographs on soil drainage. He was a Fellow of ASA and SSSA.

Dr. van der Ploeg was not only known for his research and teaching, but he was known also for his charitable contributions to support agronomic science. During the early part of his career, Dr. van der Ploeg received much support and encouragement from his older sister, Lena, and, during the later part, from his wife, Maria. To acknowledge both women, he established in 1998 the Lena and Maria van der Ploeg Fund, which is administered by the Agronomic Science Foundation (ASF). This fund supports both the Don and Betty Kirkham Soil Physics Award and the Kirkham Conference programs of SSSA. Dr. van der Ploeg was one of the initiators of the Kirkham Conferences. Two have been held: the first at Iowa State University in Ames on 2-3 Nov. 2000 and the second at Utah State University in Logan on 28-29 Oct. 2004. In 2003, Dr. van der Ploeg permanently endowed the Carl Sprengel Agronomic Research Award, formerly the ASA Agronomic Research Award, with a gift to ASF. The award is named after Carl Sprengel (1787-1859), a pioneer in plant and soil science in Germany who developed the theory of the mineral nutrition of plants.

Dr. van der Ploeg was also known for his support of colleagues. He worked behind the scenes to make sure they got recognition through awards, honorary professorships, fellowships, and other distinctions.

Rienk van der Ploeg held Dutch citizenship, and his three grown children, Welmoed, Eline, and Philip, live in the Netherlands; his wife, Maria, lives in Wennigsen, a suburb of Hannover.

“He was a man of extraordinary kindness and wisdom, an excellent scientist and a humane person who devoted himself to helping others while bearing his own suffering with exemplary courage and grace.” (Dr. D. Hillel)

We miss him very much.

Dr. R. Horton