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File photo of the entrance to the Monsanto Co. headquarters in a St. Louis.JAMES A. FINLEY/The Associated Press

Monsanto Co. says it plans to double its profits by 2019 as the St. Louis-based agriculture company capitalizes on growth in soybeans and its new farm data business.

Monsanto, the world's largest agriculture company, also announced a share buyback worth $10-billion (U.S.) and raised its profit outlook for 2014, sending its shares up by 5 per cent on Wednesday.

Monsanto chief executive officer Hugh Grant said on a conference call with analysts the company's main drivers will be its core seed business, led by soybeans, and its farm data division. Sales of its Roundup pesticide are expected to be steady, but not a significant area of growth.

"Our core business performance is allowing us to deliver our growth commitments in the toughest agriculture environment in the past several years," said Mr. Grant.

Sales in Monsanto's soybean business rose by 24 per cent to $816-million in the third quarter, and corn revenue fell by 16 per cent. "I think corn had a good year, not a great year. [Soy]beans picked up a lot of the slack," said Mr. Grant, who is forecasting "the decade of the soybean."

U.S. prices for soybean meal in the United States have risen by 48 per cent since the beginning of 2012, driven by rising production of biodiesel and growing demand from livestock producers. Soybean meal has become a popular and inexpensive source of protein for farm animals – especially pigs. Chinese hog producers, scrambling to meet rising demand for pork, have been among the biggest buyers of the U.S.-grown soy.

Farmers have responded to the new demand. Canadian growers expected to seed a record 5.3 million acres of soybeans this year, up more than 16 per cent over 2013, according Statistics Canada. In the United States, growers planned to seed a record 81.5 million acres this year, a 6-per-cent increase over last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The amount of wheat and corn planted has declined in response to lower prices and last year's bumper crop.

Monsanto says its agriculture data division, Climate Corp., will help it reach its profit targets. Climate Corp. – which Monsanto bought last fall for $930-million – helps farmers run their businesses by providing local information on weather, field and growing conditions.

For the three months ending May 31, Monsanto's net profit was $858-million, or $1.62 a share, compared with $909-million, or $1.68 a year earlier. Analysts expected a per-share profit of $1.55. The company also posted quarterly revenue of $4.25-billion, unchanged from a year earlier but slightly below expectations.

Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday the company's merger talks with Swiss rival Syngenta AG failed. The deal would have slashed Monsanto's tax bill by giving it an address in Switzerland.

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