US agribusiness Bunge has booked a drop in first-quarter profits as weak prices for fertiliser and its sugar-based ethanol hit earnings.

In the three months to the end of March, Bunge reported net income of $92m, a 60% drop on the prior-year period.

Bunge said high corn costs hit profits at its ethanol plants and the company also incurred a $27m cost to deal with a sulphuric acid spill in South America. EBIT in the period slid 56.5%.

Net sales amounted to $13.45bn, a 10.3% increase on the prior-year.

Alberto Weisser, Bunge’s chairman and CEO said: “We faced headwinds in the first quarter, as expected, but are confident that we will deliver strong results in 2012.”

Looking ahead, CFO Drew Burke added: “We are expecting a strong 2012 in agribusiness. It is currently the high season for oilseed processing in South America, and good global demand for protein meal and vegetable oil, as well as a pick-up in farmer selling following the recent increases in prices, should benefit oilseed processing margins in the region.”

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