(July 3) LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — Callery Judge Grove has shut down its 77,000-square-foot packinghouse, which was built at a cost of $7 million in 1995.

The 20-acre facility, which was closed in April, employed 320 seasonal and 30 permanent workers, said general manager Nat Roberts.

Roberts cited poor market conditions and the risk of citrus canker for the decision to close the facility.

"It's very sad to see," he said. "The rewards are getting less (in the citrus industry) and the risks have gone up enormously."

Roberts is accepting offers from companies interested in leasing the building. The majority of the equipment and machinery is still for sale.

The company will continue to grow, ship and export tangerines, minneolas and grapefruit on 3,000 acres of its 4,000-acre grove, Roberts said.

"Due to the economics of the citrus business, I've taken 1,000 acres out of production," said Roberts. "Things that were marginal or losing money I've shut down."

The company plans to keep its younger trees and older grapefruit trees, emphasizing tangerines, Roberts said.

"One of the great Indian River packinghouses closed down," said Doug Bournique, executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League, Vero Beach. "It was a case of a quality grower making a tough business decision."

No decision has been made which packinghouses will handle the company's fruit.

"There are 41 packing houses in the district," said Bournique. "So there are ample packing facilities."

Located in Palm Beach County and the southernmost area of Florida's Indian River citrus district, the packinghouse was originally designed to handle 17 varieties of produce but was used primarily for grapefruit and tangerines.

According to reports, developers are interested in a portion of the Callery Judge Grove property as a possible site for a 2,000-home development that would include stores and offices. Under the proposed county master plan, 70% of the property would remain as a citrus grove.