By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

Big Red Tomato Packers, one of Florida's largest East Coast grower-shippers, has closed its doors.

The Fort Pierce, Fla.-based grower and packer has ceased operations. The company was in the process of closing in early September, said salesman and general manager of operation Patrick Engle.

Managing partner and co-owner David Neill, who owns Triangle Farms, the packinghouse's biggest tomato grower, said the company's owners made a business decision to stop operation.

"It wasn't because we ran out of money," he said. "I'm still farming, but farming is not as fun as it used to be. The marketing techniques and the risk-reward ratio got out of kilter in the tomato business, so we decided to move on to something else."

Neill, who was vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange for 2006-07, said he wasn't sure where the Florida Gold Coast region's tomato volume would be packed in the future. He declined to say if he planned to plant tomatoes for this season. He did say two of the packing operation's other partners, Patrick Stanley and the Caruso family, planned to continue growing tomatoes.

Neill said his Triangle Farms still has land it manages and owns and he plans to remain in cattle ranching.

Neill said Big Red's partners plan to sell the packinghouse, located on a rail siding in an industrial area of Fort Pierce.

For 2006-07, Big Red's grower-owners packed about 1.5 million 25-pound cartons of round tomatoes.