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AP Photo / Dan Gill
Ode to soy.
P&L

The world’s largest and most controversial seed company posts weak earnings

By Matt Phillips

Monsanto’s third-quarter numbers:  Not so hot. Sales were up 0.7%. Profits were down about 3% to $909 million. But the St. Louis, Mo.-based agri-giant reaffirmed its guidance of more than 20% earnings growth in fiscal year 2013, which seemed to soothe investors. The shares were roughly flat.

The takeaway:  Monsanto sales were bolstered by sales of weed killers, which rose 9%. Its largest product line, genetically modified corn seed, saw sales rise 2.9% over the prior year. Decreased year-over-year soybean sales in Brazil weighed on results, though the company is planning to launch a new line of soybean seeds for the coming planting season.

What’s interesting: Monsanto is no stranger to public relations challenges, but the last few weeks have been high-profile even by Monsanto’s standards. The company triumphed when the Supreme Court ruled that an Indiana farmer had violated its patent by re-using its weed-resistent soybeans. Now it’s grappling with lawsuits related to the mysterious appearance of wheat grown from unapproved genetically modified seeds on an Oregon farm, an event the company calls “suspicious.”