June 25--Updated at 11:01 a.m.
Monsanto turned in a solid third quarter performance Wednesday, beating analyst expectations despite a 5 percent drop in earnings.
The Creve Coeur-based agriculture giant reported earnings of $858 million, or $1.62 per share, compared with $909 million, or $1.68 per share, during the same period a year ago.
In morning trading, investors appeared unconcerned with the earnings dip, pushing the stock higher. Shares were up nearly 5 percent at $126.62.
Analysts polled by FactSet had expected the company's earnings to be $1.54 per share.
Along with surpassing those expectations, Monsanto announced a new two-year $10 billion share repurchase program.
Earnings during the quarter that ended May 31 were hurt by a decline of more than $200 million in its key corn business, although much of that was offset by surging soybean sales.
"Corn had a good year. Not a great year. Beans picked up the slack," said Hugh Grant, the company's chairman, during a conference call with investors.
Corn sales, which came in at $1.3 billion, were slowed by a slashing of worldwide acres set aside for the crop and by flooding in Argentina.
The company also saw operating costs rise by $58 million, as it continues developing its new precision agriculture division -- The Climate Corporation.
The division aims to help farmers with more planting and harvesting decisions, using detailed weather data and field-level analysis.
While still essentially in its roll-out phase, Monsanto executives tout the sector as one that could factor heavily in the company's future.
Calling it a "multi-billion dollar long-term opportunity," Monsanto President Brett Begemann said Climate Corp. should begin contributing to the bottom line within a few years.
The company also said it has set a new goal of doubling its earnings per share by 2019.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tim Barker is the biotechnology and agriculture reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @tbarker13
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