TWENTY years ago today, we were about to start a Board Meeting at Mitchell’s Auction Co, where I was to make an impassioned plea for final approval to start the development of the new Lakeland Livestock Centre Auction Mart at Cockermouth, writes Farmer columnist Adam Day.

Nervously I flicked through my notes, budgets and sales predictions as the Chairman Peter Greenhill walked in. Solemnly he told us that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre, New York.

We spent a moment reflecting. Then a tearful call came in from my wife, watching events unfold on TV while our four-month-old baby boy slept peacefully.

A few days later Prime Minister Tony Blair told the world that Foot and Mouth Disease was officially over. It wasn’t.

I continued going out to farms to value stock before slaughter until Halloween, October 31. The new mart development that had been approved by the board had already commenced. I dared not tell a soul that I was working on- farm within four miles of the new site.

Six years later I found myself in the High Court of Manchester. We were taking DEFRA to court for non- payment of valuer’s fees relating to foot and mouth. DEFRA’s barrister beasted me in the witness box. She questioned my honesty, trustworthiness and professionalism as she sought at every turn to belittle me and paint me as a despicable fraudster.

Finally, after six hours battling, I snapped, asking her to question the honesty of her own clients who had told the world that foot and mouth was over in September 2001. Meanwhile I was continuing to do the very job that subsequently they would try to short- change us on.

The next morning whilst still under oath I was summoned to Judge’s chambers. DEFRA did not want me to pursue any further discussion on valuations taking place after September 2001, as this was “not in the public interest”. In return, again under oath in the courtroom, DEFRA gave me a clean bill of health, stating that I and my colleagues had at all times acted with professionalism and integrity as valuer’s working on their behalf during 2001.

After six days in court the Judge adjourned the case with a stern warning to both counsel’s, “settle this privately and do not come back”, which is precisely what would happen in time.

Walking down the court steps on Friday evening for the last time, I was amazed to see a huge line of media camera’s clicking away as we descended. “Hell Fire” I said to our barrister, “I didn’t think they would be that interested in Mitchell’s”!

“Look behind you” he said. Directly behind me was a smiling Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United who had also been court that day. “He seems to have had a better day than me” I said glumly.

Working with DEFRA hasn’t got any easier. I’ve attended several meetings with them in the last two years and listened to many passionate and knowledgeable people in our industry stick to a consistent theme about how the industry could work well in future. I’m not alone in thinking that the message has not got through yet.

n I have spent 30 years working as a land agent and auctioneer throughout Cumbria and beyond. I still enjoy auctioneering on a freelance basis, mostly at Penrith Mart, where I first started my career many years ago.

I joined the Farmer Network in 2015 initially working three days per week but now working four days per week. I am involved in all facets of the network, working closely with the board of directors and the management council to ensure that the network is delivering what members want and need.

A priority in my role has been to raise awareness of the Farmer Network and increase membership. In doing so we have been able improve income streams and project funding.

The Farmer Network is a sustainable business model.