In the course of his long scientific career, which led him via Jena and Bernburg to Dummerstorf in 1970, he developed a number of innovative breeding methods and successfully transferred them into practice. As a long-time editor in chief of the journal "Archiv für Tierzucht" [Archives of Animal Breeding] he has made a lasting contribution to the dissemination of new scientific achievements.
Prof. Dr. habil. Ernst Ritter was born on 14 April 1929 in Schweidnitz, Lower Silesia (today Świdnica). There he attended the upper secondary school. As a consequence of the Second World War the family had to leave their homeland in 1945 and built up a new existence in the Soviet occupation zone. Ernst Ritter began an agricultural apprenticeship in Saxony and Thuringia, which he completed in 1949 as a "staatlich geprüfter Landwirt" in Eisenach. He then studied agriculture at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and obtained his agricultural diploma in 1952. For the following eight years he worked at the Institute for Animal Breeding and Dairy Farming as assistant and senior assistant to Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. Fritz Hofmann (1900-1965), one of the great German animal breeders of the 20th century. Working with him left a lasting impression on the young scientist. It was also Hoffmann who inspired him for his lifelong task – the breeding of meat-rich pigs.
In 1956 Ernst Ritter received his doctorate with the thesis "Vergleichende Untersuchungen über die Körperentwicklung, Mast- und Schlachtleistung je eines Stammes deutscher und schwedischer veredelter Landschweine". His research towards the breeding of the German grafted country pig by crossbreeding with Scandinavian country pig breeds was viewed very critically at that time. The dogma of pure breeding was in favour amongst the breeders, as opposed to the promotion for utility breeding by Ritter. Ernst Ritter convinced people with great insistence and was not discouraged by setbacks, such as the refusal of the herd book status of his Jena meat pig breeds in 1958. In 1960 he became director of the Institute for Agriculture in Tautenheim and continued his research there. When in 1965 he presented his habilitation "Die Leistungen fleischwüchsiger Deutscher veredelter Landschweine: ein Beitrag zum Problem der Umzüchtung des Deutschen veredelten Landschweines unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der in Jena durchgeführten Züchtungsarbeiten" at the Agricultural Faculty of the University of Jena, the process of changing the breed from "[the farmer‘s domestic slaughter pig [...] to a pig in line with the market [...], which corresponded to the needs of the consumers [...]" (Ritter 1966) was already in full swing. Ritter's recipe for success was to always consider the animal as a whole, corresponding exactly to the aim of the long-term research strategy of the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN).
In 1964 Ernst Ritter was appointed lecturer for animal breeding at the Bernburg University of Agriculture, founded in 1961. In addition to his teaching activities, he continued to work on the hybrid pig breeding programme of the GDR.
Research Centre for Animal Production Dummerstorf-Rostock
In 1970 Ernst Ritter joined the newly founded Research Centre for Animal Production Dummerstorf-Rostock at a site rich in farm animal science tradition and took over the management of the pig breeding department. In more than 20 years, he and his staff have carried out a large number of research projects and thus had a decisive influence on German pig breeding. The focus was on the development, testing and application of complex selection indices in pig breeding, as well as work on improving reproductive fitness, increasing litter rearing performance and organisation of effective breeding and reproduction. Furthermore, he continued his experimental breeding work on the breeding of high-performance meat pigs, which he started in the 1950s.
In recognition of his scientific achievements, Ernst Ritter was awarded the "National Prize for Science and Technology" in 1975 and was appointed Professor of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the GDR (AdL) in 1976. In the following years he continued work on reproductive fitness. He was always open to new developments. As early as the mid-1980s, computer-aided modelling and the implementation of reproduction and selection programmes were introduced in his department.
Among his colleagues, Ernst Ritter was highly appreciated not only for his professional but also for his social competence. His friendly, open and sincere manner has made him a pleasant conversational partner to this day.
„Archiv für Tierzucht [Archives of Animal Breeding]
The name Ernst Ritter is inseparably linked to the "Archiv für Tierzucht", his second major life task. Already in the first issue of the scientific journal founded in 1958 by Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Stahl (1900-1980), he was represented together with his teacher Hofmann with a paper on "Mast - und Schlachtleistungen verschieden schwerer deutscher und schwedischer veredelter Landschweine". Many other contributions followed.
In 1979, the AdL assigned Ernst Ritter to the position of editor in chief, which he held until 2005, far beyond his well-deserved retirement, into which he entered in 1994.
At the beginning of the 1990s, hard times began for the "Archiv für Tierzucht", as the AdL, which had previously acted as editor of the journal, was liquidated. With a great deal of engagement and also personal financial commitment, he made it possible for the journal to appear continuously until a new editor was found in the form of the Research Institute for the Biology of Farm Animals, today's Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN).
During this time he pushed the transformation of the "Archiv für Tierzucht" from an Institute‘s house journal to an international journal.
Today "Archives Animal Breeding", as the "Archiv für Tierzucht" has been called since 2015, presents itself as an established Open Access journal with an impact factor of 1.203 (2017, Q2 in "Agriculture, Dairy & Animal science").
Ernst Ritter, who does by no means looks like having lived 90 years already, still takes an active part in the development of the journal. He continues to follow with great interest the latest scientific findings in the field of animal breeding, as he has done throughout his life. However, in contrast to his time in Jena, today he no longer drives a Dixi but a car of Japanese manufacture when he attends the weekly colloquia of the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN).