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Monsanto Harvests More Profits

I certainly don't want to steal other financial writers' shticks, so don't look for me to comment on whether or not Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) qualifies as a " 'mon back." What it does qualify as, though, is a high-quality company focused on a segment of biotechnology that most people never even think about as biotech.

Speaking to the high-quality bit, revenue climbed 31% in Monsanto's first quarter and operating income was up nearly 25%. Investors will probably also be cheered to see that the company surpassed average estimates for both revenue and earnings per share. Free cash flow for the quarter was basically flat with last year's level, though structural free cash flow was considerably higher.

Looking below the headline numbers, the company's core corn business was strong again (up nearly 18%), though soybeans were a bit soft (down 4%). Sales of Roundup and other herbicides were also strong, showing 26% top-line growth.

As a quick look outside your window might suggest, the first quarter is not an especially active one for Monsanto's U.S. business. It is, however, smack dab in the middle of the planting season on the other side of the equator. Unfortunately, ongoing pressures in Brazil caused by currency moves and a drought are muting sales. The only good news here is that this isn't exactly a surprise.

While this stock doesn't look cheap at all by P/E standards, the cash flow picture is a somewhat different story. It's not exactly cheap in cash flow terms either, but at least the picture is a little better.

Monsanto will of course continue to see competition from the likes of DuPont (NYSE: DD  ) , Dow (NYSE: DOW  ) , Syngenta (NYSE: SYT  ) , and a host of other players attracted by the potential of agricultural biotechnology. The good news, though, is that Monsanto has a very strong pipeline of products in grains and legumes (including traits for better herbicide tolerance and better drought resistance) and the opportunity to do a lot more in fruits and vegetables.

This company won't ever get the same sort of attention as pharmaceutical biotechs like Amgen or BiogenIdec. But so long as people want to eat, there will be ongoing pressure on agricultural land and an ongoing need for technologies that improve yields. And if Monsanto stays on top of the technology, there should be more green harvests to come.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).

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