Shares of Monsanto (MON) surged 5% after the company revealed a stronger-than-expected first-quarter profit as demand for corn and cotton seeds continued to grow in the U.S. and Latin America. 

The St. Louis, Mo.-based maker of agricultural products reported sales of $2.44 billion, up 33% from $1.84 billion a year ago, ahead of average analyst estimates of $2.05 billion, according to a Thomson Reuters poll.

The company said it earned $126 million, or 23 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier $9 million, or 3 cents a share. The results trumped the Street’s view of 16 cents a share.

Seed sales climbed 32% during the period to $1.5 billion, reflecting strong growth from Latin America and the Australian cotton business, while corn seeds and traits grew 26% to $895 million with the help of expansion in Brazil and Argentina.

“We've seen a very strong start to the year, with real growth in Latin America and early orders in the United States that underscore our sustained momentum carrying into 2012," Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said in a statement.

Monsanto affirmed its free cash flow guidance in the range of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion for fiscal 2012 and said it expects results to come in at the higher end of its earlier forecast in the range of $3.39 to $3.44 a share.

Wall Street is expecting a profit of $3.48 a share.

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