MINNEAPOLIS – Cargill released its 2012 annual report, which provided a glimpse into the challenges the company has faced in addition to the strategic direction company leadership intends to follow.

Cargill has not been immune to volatility sweeping global markets. In fiscal 2012, the company earned $1.17 billion from continuing operations, a 56 percent decline from a record $2.69 billion in the comparable year-ago period.

Earnings in the company’s agricultural supply chain underperformed compared to 2011.

“Although our company’s global analysis of supply and demand fundamentals and trading expertise are long-standing strengths, we at times misread this year’s markets,” Cargill said in a message to shareholders.

The struggling US beef industry was among the cyclical trends that reflected Cargill’s results. The beef industry experience one its toughest years, the company said, and packer margins including Cargill’s were in the red. Consequently, Cargill’s meat businesses fell short of 2011 results, according to the company.

A bright spot for the company came from its other businesses. Overall, one-third of Cargill’s business exceeded the previous year’s results. Sales and other revenues increased 12 percent to $133.9 billion, and cash flow from operations totaled $3.51 billion, according to Cargill.

Fiscal 2012 was also a period of significant capital investments. Cargill spent a record $4 billion, with roughly half of expenditures put toward acquisitions such as the $2 billion purchase of Provimi, an animal nutrition company. Additional acquisitions included Central American meat and poultry processor Corporacion Pipasa, Raggio di Sole Mangimi, an Italian animal feed company, and a German chocolate and cocoa concern.

The company also completed several joint ventures that included a deal with Teys Australia, a beef processing and cattle feeding business.

Costs for new and expanded facilities totaled $1.4 billion in fiscal 2012, according to Cargill. China figured prominently in Cargill’s strategic plans when the company began building an integrated poultry business in the country’s Anhui province. The venture marks Cargill’s first on-the-ground animal protein business in China, the company said. Cargill also started construction on a second corn processing facility in Brazil.

Cargill sold its beef and global flavors businesses in Argentina, and a subsidiary LaCrosse Global Fund Services.

In the future, weak economic recoveries, fiscal turmoil in higher-income countries and slowing growth in emerging markets will challenge the company, Cargill said. But demand for food will continue to grow.

“Increasing per-capita incomes in emerging and developing markets are providing more people with the means to diversify their diets,” Cargill said.

In addition to its annual report, Cargill released its corporate responsibility report for fiscal 2012.