Typically, Monsanto Co.'s first quarter is not its strongest. But this year, the biotechnology and seed giant posted higher-than-expected numbers, announcing Thursday that it anticipates a strong year ahead.
In its annual pipeline update, Monsanto also highlighted 14 new technologies that are moving toward commercialization, a record for the company.
"We've had a strong start this year, with real growth in Latin America and early orders in the United States that underscore our sustained momentum carrying into 2012," said the company's chairman, Hugh Grant, in a statement.
The Creve Coeur-based seed company, the world's largest, announced that net income rose in the first quarter to $126 million, up from $9 million last year. Earnings per share were 23 cents, compared with 2 cents in the same quarter last year. Analysts had expected per-share earnings to rise about 16 cents, while the company said last month that it expected earnings would be 15 to 20 cents a share.
Revenue in the first quarter, which ended Nov. 30, rose 33 percent to $2.44 billion, up from $1.84 billion in the first quarter 2011.
The boost derived mostly, the company and analysts said, from Latin America, where farmers in Brazil and Argentina traded up to the company's biotech seed. Net sales for corn seed and traits rose over the prior quarter to $895 million. Sales in the company's agricultural productivity segment, which included the blockbuster Roundup, climbed 34 percent to $905 million.
The company reported overall sales of nearly $12 billion in its fiscal 2011.
In recent years, farmers and scientists have reported some problems with the company's products, including growing weed resistance in cotton, corn and soy fields. In 2011, reports surfaced that pests in four states were becoming resistant to the company's genetically engineered corn.
But Monsanto said Thursday that it was confident its pipeline would deliver, with 14 projects moving toward the marketplace. Some of these include a disease-resistant pepper, a drought-tolerant cotton, a corn that would better repel pests and a new formulation of Roundup combined with dicamba, an older herbicide.
"We're excited about the record progress we've made this year across all of our R&D platforms," said Robb Fraley, the company's chief technology officer, in a statement. "... The projects in our pipeline today will help us provide an even stronger toolkit of solutions to meet the needs of farmers in the future."
The company's first quarter typically lags others because farmers are between planting seasons in the company's strongest sales regions.