Amid all the talk over housing prices falling, banks taking huge write-offs, and credit markets acting goofy, it was pretty easy to miss the boom that's been going on in the agricultural sector. That's right, we're taking it back to the farm.

To be sure, farming isn't what it used to be, and technological advances have affected the industry in a profound way. Providing specialty chemicals to farmers is big business, and that hasn't been missed by big chemical players like DuPont (NYSE: DD). However, even more traditional mineral fertilizers made from phosphates and potash have been bringing home the bacon recently.

With that in mind, I tuned into the tags for fertilizer and agricultural chemicals on The Motley Fool's CAPS service to see which ag-related stocks CAPS players thought were the best bets.


Market Cap

1-Year Performance

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

The Mosaic Company (NYSE: MOS)

$40.4 billion



Terra Industries (NYSE: TRA)

$3.9 billion



ShengdaTech (Nasdaq: SDTH)

$609 million



Agrium (NYSE: AGU)

$8.1 billion



Syngenta (NYSE: SYT)

$24 billion



Data from CAPS and Yahoo! Finance as of Jan. 24.

CAPS players obviously think that all of these companies will be winners, but to get some more color, I decided to drill down on Mosaic to see what investors have been saying.

Mosaic's 2007: a work of art
So how does a company that produces and markets "concentrated phosphate and potash crop nutrients for the global agriculture industry" end up skyrocketing the way Mosaic has over the past year? Well, you can start with the company delivering killer financial results. Add to that the fact that the entire industry has been scoring big when just about everybody else is shooting air-balls, and you can almost guarantee a big influx of investor cash.

The three most important nutrients when it comes to farming are potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, and Mosaic is the largest global producer of phosphate fertilizer and the third-largest producer of potash -- a potassium-based mineral that's mined for use in fertilizer. As food prices have soared recently and farmers have scrambled to cash in, the mineral-based fertilizers that Mosaic sells have been a cash cow. Between Mosaic's fiscal 2004 and 2007, revenue has increased more than 140% while EBIT margins (earnings before interest and taxes) have jumped from 3.2% to more than 10% -- and both top- and bottom-line numbers have further accelerated since the company wrapped up fiscal 2007 back in May.

Though the push toward more ethanol production has played a significant part in the boom, it's not the only driver. CAPS All-Star and Mosaic bull AeroFool noted another major piece of the puzzle last July:

Food price inflation will emerge around the world based on China and India adding protein to their diet. The giant new middle classes will create sustained demand. Supply will simply not keep up with demand over the long term. Agricultural stocks stand to benefit.

While some, like AeroFool, deem the recent run as the result of a global megatrend in the ag business, others are convinced that it's just another cycle that will come back to Earth at some point. Either way, it may not be a bad idea to at least put a few high-quality agriculture stocks like Mosaic on your radar.

Have some thoughts of your own on the agriculture industry? Head over to CAPS and join the 82,000 investors that are already rating thousands of stocks.

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Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy doesn't know much about farming, but it does know that the Aggies of Texas A&M couldn't quite handle Penn State!