6th April, 2021
By Maggie Raworth,
With the community behind her, a 17-year-old fifth generation Victorian farmer is taking on one of the state’s biggest energy providers and she’s not being shy about her message for them.
Joee Aganetti-Fraser is protesting a proposal that she says will destroy many livelihoods, and “piss off AusNet” is now written in capitals across a hill at the Mount Prospect property.
AusNet wants to construct a 190km-long transmission line from Stawell to Melbourne, a project that would slice right through the Aganetti-Fraser potato farm near Daylesford.
Farmers from all over the Central Highlands share the sentiment to energy distributor, AusNet.
But they have been unresponsive to the concerned locals.
“There’s been nothing, they haven’t got back to us on anything,” Ms Aganetti-Fraser said.
Chris Stephens of Highland Potatoes said the move could be disastrous.
“You’d nearly destroy the potato industry in this district,” he said.
Ms Aganetti-Fraser said her family farm would barely be able to function under the proposal.
“There will be no more left of it, we won’t be able to run anything or do anything with the land … it will just be good, rich volcanic soil out to waste.”
The area grows more than 130 thousand tonnes of potatoes each year.
Most of that goes to food giant McCain.
Farmers say towering high voltage lines would reduce production by at least 40 per cent and that’s not enough to keep a large contract.
“We can’t have anything over three or four metres under these massive powerlines, which cuts out all of our machinery,” Ms Aganetti-Fraser said.
Growers say the flow-on effects will be monstrous.
“Well the factory will close because their jobs will go,” potato farmer Andy Maher said.
“The factory is relying on us for their production.”
Most of the area’s potatoes end up as fries at big chains including McDonald’s and KFC.
Farmers say because of the nutrient-rich soil, it is the best land for growing potatoes in the country.
If the project goes ahead, growers are adamant it will cause a substantial increase in imported French fries.
AusNet says it is conducting investigations and looking at the concerns of landowners and farming practices.
Local business owners say it’s not just farming that will be hit.
“People come to this region for the beautiful scenery, for the landscape, and they don’t want to be looking at 85 metre tall powerlines,” Doug May from Captains Creek Winery said.
Ultimately potato farmers want the power grid built alongside the Western Highway.
“My message is to the Daniel Andrews government: don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” Mr Maher said.