Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM) made a boatload of money this quarter. Unfortunately, the lion's share came from one-time asset sales, like the company's investments in Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) and Overseas Shipholding Group (NYSE:OSG). Several business units had a tough time over the last few months, and the difficulty was made all the more glaring by a comparison to very strong results in the prior year.

ADM is the biggest corn processor in the world. This partially casts the company as a corn syrup supplier to the likes of Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP). With major political support forming behind ethanol as a renewable, secure energy source, the company is also positioning itself to be the global leader in bioenergy. It's well on its way to achieving that goal, but there are going to be bumps in the road -- bumps like the higher corn costs that, combined with lower ethanol volumes, took the segment's profits down nearly 16%. I don't see high corn costs as a persistent problem; this year, farmers have planted the largest crop since World War II. This bodes well for improving margins in the corn processing segment in the present fiscal year, which began July 1.

Oilseeds processing also hit a snag in the quarter. Profits there dropped roughly 25% from last year's record quarter. The crop of rapeseed has come up short this year, which is pressuring margins in Europe. Excessive biodiesel imports have done the same.

Despite the quarterly margin squeezes, ADM still managed to meet or beat its profitability targets for the year. The company had sought a return on net assets 5% in excess of its estimated cost of capital, and it leaped that hurdle handily. Part of that success was attributable to costs staying under the threshold of $110/metric ton produced.

I'm personally not the biggest fan of ethanol as a solution to our energy demands, but ADM does strike me as a formidable operator, especially compared to its small rivals Pacific Ethanol (NASDAQ:PEIX) and Aventine Renewable Energy (NYSE:AVR). The company is shedding non-core assets, and the buzz is that it's preparing to enter the Brazilian sugarcane ethanol market.

If you believe in ethanol, you'd better believe in Archer Daniels Midland. Someday Wall Street may believe as well, and that's when the sparks will really fly.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. A lot of buzz surrounds The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.