Led by the company’s beef business, net earnings increased 66 percent.

MINNEAPOLIS – First-quarter earnings at Cargill gained 66 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2017, lifted by increased demand for beef.

For the quarter ended Aug. 31, 2016, net earnings were $852 million compared to $512 million reported in the year-ago quarter. Adjusted operating earnings climbed 35 percent to $827 million compared with $611 million. Cargill said the difference between adjusted and net earnings was a function of timing differences related to inventory, derivatives and hedging.

Revenues for the quarter declined slightly to $27.1 billion from $27.5 billion in the year-ago quarter.

“We posted a strong start to the new fiscal year,” David MacLennan, chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “We’ve been charting a new path to higher performance, and it’s rewarding to see the many changes we’ve made resulting in gains across much of the company.”

The company’s Animal Nutrition & Protein segment was the largest contributor to adjusted operating earnings, the company said, led by Cargill’s beef business. Larger supplies of beef cattle, renewed customer demand and lower prices for beef provided tailwinds for the segment.

Additionally, the company’s global poultry business, along with its domestic turkey and further processed eggs units delivered higher earnings compared with the prior year. Sales growth in Asia and in North America drove strong results in the animal nutrition business. Meanwhile, weather-related events in some countries were headwinds for sales volume for aqua feeds. However, the impact was partly offset by strong sales in high-value functional feeds and raw material sourcing in the segment’s new aqua nutrition unit.

MacLennan noted that recent transactions and production changes have enhanced plant efficiency, supply chains and cost structure. Cargill acquired Five Star Custom Foods, which specializes in cooked protein products for the foodservice and food manufacturing industries. Also, the company is selling two feed yards in Texas to Amarillo-based Friona Industries, which is currently a significant supplier of fed cattle to Cargill. The company plans to use the capital from the sale in other parts of the business.

Finally, Cargill plans to differentiate the company’s turkey products with its introduction of the antibiotic-free Honest Turkey product line.

“These actions are making us more competitive and equipping us to serve a broadening range of customer needs,” MacLennan said.

In other segment news, Origination & Processing earnings rose moderately in the first quarter, driven by improved soybean processing margins along with the reversal of mark-to-market losses taken in the preceding quarter. Good performance in Brazil, North American grain exports, canola in Canada, and biodiesel in North America and Europe also helped results in the segment, the company said.

Improved performance in starches and sweeteners, and edible oils lifted earnings in the company’s Food Ingredients & Applications business. Cocoa and chocolate products provided tailwinds, although earnings were tempered by a shortage of mid-crop cocoa beans in Ghana. Salt earnings were flat.

Finally, Cargill's asset management investments offset weak performance in other parts of the Industrial & Financial Services which was profitable in the quarter. Results in petroleum and the North American metals business were impacted by low global demand in oversupplied markets.