(Sept. 2) DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Citing financial losses of nearly $3 million, Fratelli Farms of Florida Inc., Delray Beach, is liquidating its farm operation in Fellsmere and will return to its roots as a fruit and vegetable broker.

President Bob Geragi, 57, who suffered a heart attack in March, said the mounting financial losses and his health led him to the decision.

“We’re going to quit the farm,” said Geragi. “We’ve lost $2.7 million, and for a poor lad like me from Pittsburgh, that’s a lot of money.”

Fratelli Farms, which opened for business in 1988, was a vegetable broker until early 2003 when the company shifted its focus toward becoming a grower-packer-shipper.

The company worked joint ventures with growers in Florida and Georgia to supply its Platinum Pack, a 25-pound premium pack that was designed to hold more produce than an average 1 1/9-bushel shipping carton.

Geragi said it quickly became evident that partnerships were not the best direction to go when problems with supplies of quality produce, as well as bad weather, forced the company to consider other options.

Last fall Geragi leased 600 acres in Fellsmere from Sun Ag Inc., a subsidiary of citrus giant Fellsmere Farms, to farm vegetables this spring.

The move was the company’s first toward growing its own bell peppers, squash, zucchini, eggplant and snap beans, but the deal failed to materialize. Geragi said only 37,000 of a possible 800,000 cartons were marketable because of drought conditions this past spring.

“The whole thing is getting dicey down here,” Geragi said. “It’s getting too expensive unless you own the land. Then there are the weather problems. If we had put the crop in the ground (as planned earlier in the summer), we would have lost it due to the rain from (Hurricane) Charley. Now we have another one coming.”

Before its decision to cease farming operations, the company had planned to expand its Fellsmere packinghouse by 15,000 square feet and add about 8,000 square feet of refrigerated space.