Sixth generation Harpenden farmer backs EU Remain campaign

Harpenden farmer Will Dickinson with a sheep and a lamb

Harpenden farmer Will Dickinson with a sheep and a lamb - Credit: Archant

For over 200 years and through six generations, Will Dickinson’s family has farmed at Cross Farm in Harpenden.

Harpenden farmer Will Dickinson

Harpenden farmer Will Dickinson - Credit: Archant

And, he said, members of his family had “given their all to prevent this country from becoming part of Europe in two world wars”.

Next Thursday, however, Will, “an Englishman who is immensely proud of my country” will vote to remain in the European Union as he “believes that to remain within the union is the best way to preserve the integrity of my business”.

He explained: “One of the main planks for the Leave campaign is that the EU prevents the UK from trading with the rest of the world.

“I have heard nothing that persuades me that agriculture will not be used as a bargaining chip for other more valuable trade, that countries we might persuade to buy our high value electronics or financial services industries will be given unfettered access to our food market, largely because the main product they will have to sell to us will be agricultural production.”

Will pointed out that such countries “do not have the same costs, particularly in labour, given the new living wage, but also costs that arise from our particular environment, such as the winter housing of livestock.

“The EU is one of the world’s largest and most developed markets; for example, over 55,000 tonnes of sheep meat is exported to France from the UK each year.

Most Read

“If the UK gives up the right to access that market it is my sincere belief that French farmers would be delighted to satisfy the market themselves. I do not see New Zealanders keen to accept this sudden surplus!”

Will said that much has been made of the EU-derived regulation, and he has recently completed the annual return for Cross Farm, “amid much confusion and delayed guidance from government.

“I do not believe that any new independent UK government will relinquish any control that these regulations give them.

“My brother farms in South Africa – he left here to escape the burden of regulation. In order to sell his produce into our country he now has to comply with all the regulations that I do here. The only difference is that he has no part in the discussion in setting these standards since he is not based here.”

Asked about the long-term impact on St Albans district’s agricultural sector, following the June 23 referendum, Will replied: “Given the timescales that have been suggested following the vote, I do not anticipate dramatic changes to the farming landscape around St Albans in the short term.

“Usually changes in farming practice are as a result of fluctuations in commodity prices or pressures of pest or disease.

“If commodity prices fall for prolonged periods below the cost of production, farmers will search for alternative business opportunities - not necessarily those that conjure up the traditional image of the Great British countryside of ages past.”

• Will has been involved in a number of discussions over the coming referendum with members of the National Farmers Union (NFU). Although he is regional chairman for the NFU representing the views of local farmers and growers, his responses to this paper are his personal opinion - not the union’s.

• The NFU has said that as it recognises the diversity of views among its members, it is not actively campaigning in the referendum, or advising members how to vote. But, its council believes that the interests of farmers are best served by the UK’s continuing membership of the EU.