Jan 8 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co, the world's largest seed company, reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings on Wednesday as higher herbicide sales offset a decline in sales from its corn portfolio.
Monsanto, a developer of genetically engineered corn, soybeans and other crops and purveyor of the popular Roundup herbicide, said it was seeing strong early seed orders for spring planting in the United States. It expected its launch of a new biotech soybean to cover about three million acres.
The company said it notched a record 29 "phase advancements" across several research and development platforms, and signed a deal with a large U.S. agricultural retail distributor to expand its new precision farming system products.
"The first quarter demonstrated that our business performance is squarely on track with several key milestones and that we have the right growth strategy in place," Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant said in a statement.
The company earned a total of $373 million in the quarter ended Nov. 30, up from $349 million a year earlier.
The profit amounted to 67 cents a share from continuing operations, up from 62 cents a year ago. Analysts expected 64 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
On a net basis, the company earned 69 cents a share, up from 63 cents a year earlier.
Net sales rose to $3.14 billion from $2.94 billion a year ago, even though sales of corn seeds and specialized genetic traits for corn fell 7 percent to $1.05 billion. The company's agricultural productivity segment, which includes Roundup herbicide, saw sales jump 24 percent to $1.5 billion in the quarter.
The company confirmed its earnings guidance for the 2014 fiscal year, saying it expects to earn $5.00 to $5.20 a share. Full-year 2014 EPS guidance on an as-reported basis is expected in the range of $5.02 to $5.22 per share.
Monsanto officials reaffirmed free cash flow in the range of $600 million to $800 million for 2014.