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After 75 years as a leader in Florida agriculture and at one time considered the nation's largest pepper grower, Dubois & Son in Boynton Beach has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection March 10 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of Florida, listing $27.3 million in liabilities against $627,616 in assets, which are mainly comprised of trucks, equipment and machinery.

Following the death of patriarch Robert M. (Bobby) DuBois Sr. in September at age 68, the company was owned by Robert M. (Robby) DuBois Jr., with a 66 percent share, and his sister, Melissa Braswell, who held the remaining amount.

A combination of weather- and market-related incidents had plagued Dubois & Son for several years, according to the family attorney. More than 130 creditors were listed in the bankruptcy filing, with the Internal Revenue Service ($1.4 million) and the Palm Beach County Tax Collector ($41,306) among the larger.

The family did not respond to calls from The Produce News. Their attorney, Robert Furr of Boca Raton, FL, did not return calls from The Produce News, but earlier told the Palm Beach Post that the death of Mr. Dubois Sr. "was the culmination of it. The company had been suffering financially for the last three or four years due to some bad crops. It was very deeply in debt."

Mr. Furr told the Post that the nature of the bankruptcy and the pending liquidation indicated that the company would cease operations.

The Dubois family first started farming in Palm Beach County in the 1930s after moving to Florida from Oklahoma. By the 1980s, family holdings totaled 2,500 acres west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. At that time, Dubois & Son was thought to be the nation's largest producer of peppers.

In 2001-02, the company packed and shipped 3 million crates of vegetables, including cucumbers, squash and eggplant, and was widely known for hand- packed Bell peppers. By 2004, the company was farming just 1,000 acres but still shipped 2.5 million boxes of produce.

In 2003, the family dissolved its Dubois Farms enterprise and relaunched as Dubois & Son LLC, which employed about 300 people seasonally. By this season, the Dubois family no longer operated its own packinghouse, but it was growing for other shippers with markets in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The family still has 28 acres in trust at the site of its packinghouse and some fields in Boynton Beach; the future of that property is unclear.

There is nothing in the court documents or proceedings that would prevent Dubois family members from entering into other farming-related ventures.