Sales and earnings jumped in Monsanto's ( MON) third quarter, with both coming in ahead of estimates.

Monsanto earned $334 million, or $1.21 a share, in the quarter, compared with $47 million, or 17 cents a share, a year ago. Total sales were $2.35 billion in the latest quarter, up from $2.04 billion a year ago. On average, analysts were expecting earnings of $1.20 a share in the latest quarter on sales of $2.23 billion.

"Key drivers for the quarter were increased seeds and traits revenues in the United States, primarily driven by higher revenues from the company's soybean business, and greater farmer adoption of the company's corn products," Monsanto said.

Looking ahead, Monsanto reiterated full-year earnings guidance of $2.50 to $2.55 a share; the Thomson First Call consensus estimate is $2.60 a share.

"The company also confirmed that its guidance for free cash flow in fiscal year 2006 remains in the range of $825 million to $900 million, with net cash provided by operating activities in the range of $1.375 billion to $1.450 billion, and net cash required by investing activities of approximately $550 million."

Monsanto's shares closed at $76.64 Wednesday. Thursday morning, they were up 61 cents, or 0.8%, to $77.25.

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