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Suffolk equestrian firm rises from the ashes after fire at Metfield farm

PUBLISHED: 08:54 03 February 2017 | UPDATED: 10:48 03 February 2017

James Foster Clarke from Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield.  His company have just launched new products for his equine bedding business called Bed-Down.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

James Foster Clarke from Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield. His company have just launched new products for his equine bedding business called Bed-Down. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

©archant2017

Six months after a devastating fire threatened to put it out of business, an agricultural firm has risen from the ashes with a new image and new product range.

Firefighters tackle the farm fire at Metfield. Firefighters tackle the farm fire at Metfield.

Bed-Down equine bedding suppliers, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, had its production facilities decimated last July in a suspected arson attack.

But for the family firm’s managing director, James Foster-Clarke, the tragedy presented an opportunity for a complete rebirth – the result of which was a £4m reinvestment in new facilities, machinery and technology.

The fire damaged buildings at Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher The fire damaged buildings at Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

After more than five months out of action the farm in Metfield, near Harleston, is churning out its specialist bedding products from a complex of new warehouses.

With new machinery ready to be installed, its classic product range should be back in production by the end of the month alongside its new compact range – the Handy Bale.

James Foster Clarke from Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield.  His company have just launched new products for his equine bedding business called Bed-Down. PHOTO: Nick Butcher James Foster Clarke from Cherry Tree Farm, Metfield. His company have just launched new products for his equine bedding business called Bed-Down. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Mr Foster-Clarke spearheaded the company’s reinvention – which encompassed everything from machinery and software to packaging.

He said: “The fire took out nearly 20 years’ worth of investment. A family business is very different from a standard business. It is your life and you invest everything in it, and when you have something like this happen it takes a bit of you with it.

“It is a very negative situation, but from that you have to look forward to the future. We have the benefit of hindsight and experience in order to make things better than they were before and we have the opportunity to try new things.”

These “new things” include processing software designed specifically for Bed-Down, computer-controlled processing machinery and new dust extraction equipment.

Mr Foster-Clarke added: “When you want to create something really new, you have to start with a blank canvas.

“Our friends, staff and customers have given us the incentive to move on.”

After losing around half a year’s revenue to the fire, it is hoped Bed-Down’s larger new facilities will increase its annual turnover from £2m to £3m.

With the investment in new facilities will come an investment in staff, with the workforce expected to grow from 15 to 20 in the coming months.

Bed-Down stock

The company harvests around 5,000 tonnes of straw a year to create around seven different equine products, which are sold to stockists around the country.

Its latest innovation, the Handy Bale, was unveiled at top equestrian trade fair BETA International last month.

At half the weight and size of a normal 20kg bale, and small enough to “hug”, its inventor Mr Foster-Clarke believes it will make equine care easier for a broad range of customers.

Some beddings are available with Bed-Down’s patented product, Microcote, an odourless and colourless dressing which prevents dust particles being kicked up by the horse in the stable.

Bed-Down also makes poultry bedding, cat litter and absorbent pellets for horses.

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