MINNEAPOLIS — Earnings from continuing operations at Cargill totaled $766 million in the third quarter ended Feb. 29, essentially even with $763 million in the same period a year ago. For the first nine months of fiscal 2012, earnings from continuing operations fell 52 percent to $1.1 billion, down from $2.29 billion in the year-ago period. Both the prior year figures exclude earnings from Cargill's former majority investment in The Mosaic Co.

Consolidated revenues in the most recent quarter were $31.9 billion, up 5 percent from $30.5 billion a year ago. Nine-month revenues totaled $99.8 billion, up 18 percent from $84.7 billion in the prior period.

“Cargill’s earnings strengthened in the third quarter, totaling more than twice that earned in the first six months of the fiscal year,” said Greg Page, chairman and chief executive officer. “Although it continues to be an unsettled year for the global economy, we did a better job navigating the uncertainty. It reinforces our focus on creating value for our customers, improving our work processes and keeping our costs in check.”

Cargill said its food ingredients and applications segment was the largest contributor to the company’s third quarter, with earnings up significantly from the year-ago period. Within the segment, the food ingredient businesses posted a record third quarter on a combined basis. Earnings among the segment’s global group of meat businesses were improved from the second quarter, but meat results overall were still well below last year’s record level due to the cyclical downturn in North American beef, Cargill said.

Although solid earnings were achieved in the agriculture services segment during the third quarter, they were not on par with last year, the company noted. Within the segment, Cargill’s global animal nutrition operations posted an improved performance, which was offset in part by lower income in North American farm services.

“The reduction was largely attributable to changes in this year’s global grain flows, which shifted more US grain handling volume than is typical into the company’s first half,” Cargill said.

A “sharp rebound” occurred in Cargill’s origination and processing segment during the third quarter. Cargill said its grain and oilseed trading and processing businesses “put their combined insight to good advantage in analyzing and managing the ongoing instability and risk in the global economic and geopolitical environment.”

“The segment established favorable trading positions in most parts of the business, even though the slowdown in US grain exports, the buildup in global oilseed processing capacity and geopolitical tensions made for challenging market conditions,” Cargill said.

Third-quarter earnings in the risk management and financial segment were slightly below the year-ago level, with much stronger results among the segment’s energy businesses.

Results within the company’s industrial segment finished below last year’s third quarter as an exceptionally mild winter across North America negatively impacted demand for deicing salt products.

During the third quarter Cargill took several steps to strengthen its global operations. In Brazil’s southern state of Parana, the company broke ground on a corn wet milling plant in Castro. The corn wet mill, Cargill’s second in Brazil, will produce a variety of sweetener and starch products for food and beverage applications, industrial products such as paper coatings, and co-products used in pet foods and animal feeds.

In China’s Henan Province, Cargill has begun building a corn sweetener plant that will serve nearby global and regional beverage makers. It will be Cargill’s third corn sweetener plant in China.

In the United States, Cargill said it is modernizing its soybean crush plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; enlarging the Tacoma, Wash.-based TEMCO grain export terminal joint venture with cooperative and partner CHS; and returning to dual ownership the Louisiana Sugar Refinery joint venture with cooperative and partner Sugar Growers and Refiners. Cargill also completed the sale of its global flavors business to Kerry Group.