Eugenia Banks has dedicated her career to helping potato growers in Ontario.
Growing up in Chile, Eugenia Banks was surrounded by agriculture. Her father, Jorge C. Thomas, was an agricultural engineer working for the federal government. As a child she would travel around the country to the different provinces with her father as he worked. In the southern portion of Chile, they grew potatoes and Banks quickly found herself interested in the tuber.
After Banks finished her bachelor of science degree at the University of Chile, she had the opportunity to complete her master and PhD degrees at the University of Guelph. She found herself falling in love with the potato industry in southern Ontario, and she started to work for the provincial government in 1990 as a potato specialist.
“I was very excited about working with potatoes. And someone asked me, ‘Are you nervous? You’re going to work with potatoes.’ And there were no women before me working with potatoes in the government. And not at all, I said I was really excited,” Banks explains in a phone interview. “I started working with the growers, and I found that the growers were very, very helpful.”
Over the next three decades, Banks dedicated her work to helping the Ontario potato industry. From the start she found herself interested in pest and disease management. One of the first pests she battled was Colorado potato beetles (CPBs) by doing dip tests to check chemical efficacy against the pest. From there she moved onto late blight developing a management strategy, which she trained scouts from across North America on.
These weren’t the only pests and diseases she worked on. In 2004, Banks released the Potato Field Guide which was compiled and edited by her. The book was meant to help growers, scouts and crop advisors identify diseases, insects, and other problems found in potatoes in Ontario. It was published in print before moving online to the Spud Smart website in 2022.
In 2015 when Banks stepped back from working with the provincial government, she sat down to talk with the Ontario Potato Board. The Board knew how important the work Banks did was for the province’s potato growers and wanted her to be able to continue to work with them.
Both sides agreed Banks should have the freedom to do the research work she wanted with support from the Board. Banks was also asked to continue the province’s potato variety trials and organizing the annual Ontario Potato Conference and Potato Field Day
“To have somebody like Eugenia that’s been so dedicated to our Ontario industry and to the growers in general — you don’t get to see that too often where somebody takes a takes a career and turns it into her livelihood,” Kevin Brubacher, general manager of the Ontario Potato Board, says in a phone interview.
For Banks, she’s happy with the work she’s doing and wants to continue working with growers.
“I enjoy so much what I’m doing that I don’t expect major changes,” she says. “I enjoy detecting new problems. I enjoy the variety trials, but most of all I like working with growers.”