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Defunct tomato grower seeks OK to restart farming

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  • | 4:12 p.m. July 29, 2013
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TAMPA — The owners of East Coast Brokers & Packers, once one of Florida's largest tomato producers, are asking the bankruptcy court to allow them to restart farming operations as the company's multimillion-dollar assets are scheduled for auction.

Batista and Evelyn Madonia, who shut down operations in December 2011, say their business was profitable most of the past 55 years and it can be again, according to a motion filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida. The Madonias contend they will increase the value of their properties if they're allowed to resume farming operations.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Aug. 5.

Meanwhile, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy trustee is moving forward with plans to sell the assets of East Coast Brokers & Packers and related companies, including various farms, packing facilities and farming equipment in Florida and Virginia. The assets are valued at an estimated $118 million.

The Madonias of Plant City and their seven companies — East Coast Brokers, Circle M Ranch Inc., Ruskin Vegetable Corp., Byrd Foods of Virginia Inc., Eastern Shore Properties Inc., Stellaro Bay Inc. and Oakwood Place Inc., the company that owned Plant City's well-known Red Rose Inn — sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection March 6.

On Monday, Weeks Auction Co. announced plans to auction scores of tractors, forklifts, trucks, sprayers, specialized tomato implements and other pieces of agricultural equipment in two major auctions in Florida and Virginia.

Weeks Auction, in partnership with Murray Wise Associates, is also auctioning 10,000-plus acres of farmland, numerous packing facilities and other property in Florida and Virginia as part of the bankruptcy case.

The first group of assets will sell at 9 a.m. Aug. 28 in Mulberry. The second auction will be 9 a.m. Sept. 4, in Greenbush, Va. Online bidding will be available during the live auctions.

“The East Coast Brokers and Packers operations were very extensive, so the inventory to be sold is quite large, including virtually every type of equipment necessary to the business of growing and handling tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons and other produce crops,” Tim Weeks, vice president of Weeks Auction, says in a news release.

More than 140 tractors, disks, power units, sprayers, mowers, plows, tools, dollies and ladders will be sold.

A complete list of assets is available at beginning today.


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