£2M BATTLE OF THE CHRISTMAS TREES
Farmer says he wasn’t paid for his labours... while owner says aphids and fungus hit the crop
THEY are a festive fixture in homes across the country, a colourful reminder that the season of goodwill is upon us.
But not all Christmas trees, it seems, are a source of Yuletide cheer.
One batch is at the centre of a £2 million legal battle, featuring claims of weedy branches and discoloured needles, plus accusations of Scrooge-like meanness.
Farmer John Paton was hired by one of the country’s largest Christmas tree growers to tend the crop.
But he is now suing Noble Nordmann, a Scottish-registered firm owned by Danish businessman Jimmi Enevoldsen, for £127,800, claiming he has not been paid for thousands of hours of work.
The company is in turn countersuing for £2 million, accusing Mr Paton of allowing 250,000 of its trees to be attacked by aphids and fungus.
Speaking from his home in Perthshire, Mr Paton, 44, said his livelihood was at risk. He added: ‘It has been an absolute nightmare. I’ve been a farmer and contractor all my life. My family were farmers before me. I have a good strong reputation. I did what I was asked. The counterclaim is just an attempt to get rid of me.’
However, Mr Enevoldsen insisted the counterclaim was justified because of the damage to his trees. He said: ‘We had a massive aphid attack, we had discolouration problems because of the lack of fertiliser. We lost a lot of money and the trees are still suffering.’
Noble Nordmann has 3.5 million trees growing in plantations north of the Border, with a 5ft specimen selling for up to £50.
Mr Paton was a member of a farming co-operative contracted by the company to oversee the production of trees for the UK festive market. He was hired in January 2015 to look after the crop for a minimum of 1,760 hours annually, at a cost of £50 per hour.
In a civil case at Perth Sheriff Court, Mr Paton is claiming Noble Nordmann did not provide the promised instructions and maps he needed to carry out the appropriate fertilising and treatment of the trees.
The farmer told the court that by the time the contract had been formally terminated, 2,556 hours of work had been carried out and he was owed £127,800.
In the counterclaim, Noble Nordmann accuses Mr Paton of decreasing the value of the crop.
In papers lodged at the court, the company states: ‘He failed to carry out services with reasonable care.
‘Loss arose during the period of the contract because of his failure to timeously attend to spraying fertiliser, applying herbicide and insecticide spraying.
‘Such services were time-critical and essential for the production of high quality Christmas trees. Failure to carry out services led to discolouration and damage to the trees. They were damaged by aphids. There was needle damage as a result of willow herb rust, caused by a failure to administer herbicide.
‘A number of trees required to be destroyed.
‘In addition, the quality grading of the trees was reduced, which caused and will result in a reduced return upon sale and future sales.’
A company report said the reduced 2017 harvest was responsible for a £152,000 loss, while future losses would reach £1.17 million.
It claimed a further loss of £670,000 as a result of each tree from a crop of nearly quarter of a million being sold for almost £3 less than trees of a higher quality.
The case continues.
NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: John Paton, main picture, is in the midst of a legal battle with Jimmi Enevoldsen, right, over 250,000 festive trees which require expert care, above