The farmer-owned dairy and agribusiness group Land O'Lakes has posted a third-quarter net loss of US$16.7m, against net earnings in the corresponding period last year of $80.4m.

The 2005 net earnings figure included an $87.5m pre-tax gain on the sale of the company's interest in CF Industries fertilizer company. This year's third-quarter net earnings included a $15.0m non-cash impairment charge against the company's holdings in MoArk LLC.

Sales for the third quarter fell from $1.7bn to $1.6bn.

For the nine-month period, sales fell from $5.6bn to $5.3bn, with net earnings declining from $130.6m to $44.2m. However, the company pointed out that last year's three-quarter earnings were also positively impacted by the gain on the CF Industries sale.

Total EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) reached $9.7m for the quarter and $154.7m for the year to date, against $124.3m and $270.4m for the same periods last year.

Land O'Lakes said that the third quarter had seen positive momentum and improved earnings in its two largest businesses, dairy foods and feed, while the year-to-date results reflected continued solid performance in its Dairy Foods Value Added, Lifestyle Feed and Seed divisions, driven primarily by its branded and proprietary businesses and product lines. However, this progress had partially been offset by challenges in its Dairy Foods Industrial, Livestock Feed and Layers/Eggs businesses.

Total balance sheet debt, including capital leases, stood at $770m at the end of the quarter, a $109m improvement over 30 September 2005, the company reported. Land O'Lakes also said its long-term debt-to-capital ratio had improved from 40.5% at the end of September 2005 to 46.6% as of 30 September 2006.