£2M BAT­TLE OF THE CHRIST­MAS TREES

Farmer says he wasn’t paid for his labours... while owner says aphids and fun­gus hit the crop

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Kather­ine Suther­land and Gor­don Cur­rie

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

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