SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI, U.S. — Despite a 43% decline in earnings during fiscal 2016, executives at Monsanto Co. believe continued soybean technology expansion and cost discipline put in place during the year have the company positioned for a return to earnings per share growth in fiscal 2017.

Net income in the year ended Aug. 31 totaled $1.336 billion, equal to $2.99 per share on the common stock, down from $2.314 billion, or $4.81 per share, in fiscal 2015. Net sales for the year fell 10% to $13.502 billion from $15.001 billion a year ago.

Brett Begemann, Monsanto's president and chief operating officer.

“No doubt it was a challenging year,” Brett Begemann, president and chief operating officer, said during an Oct. 5 conference call with analysts. “But despite those challenges, we stayed the course on several key deliverables, including outstanding penetration of our Intacta Roundup Ready 2 PRO technology; the launch of Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans; our continued global corn germplasm upgrade, which resulted in record corn seed volumes in the U.S.; and our disciplined spend management.

“Executing these deliverables provides the base for growth, positioning us well for long-term earnings power.”

Begemann said Monsanto has plans in place in the United States to grow genetic share, and has priced the majority of its existing corn hybrids flat to down slightly, while new hybrids have been priced at a premium. He said the company expects its global corn germplasm price mix lift in local currency will be roughly flat to up low single digits. Monsanto also plans to grow its global corn germplasm footprint in an environment where global corn acres are expected to roughly flat, he said.

In soybeans, Monsanto expects to reach several milestones and deliver improved margins as well as greater than 20% growth in global soybean gross profit compared with 2016.

“For Intacta Roundup Ready 2 PRO, we plan to reach an expected 45 million to 55 million acres in South America,” Begemann said. “We expect the vast majority of this footprint will be in Brazil, and with continued progress toward maintaining reliable value capture in Argentina, we are optimistic about that country’s contribution to that overall total.

Separate from its 2017 operational plan, Monsanto will look to execute the necessary steps to close its transaction with Bayer, said Hugh Grant, chairman and chief executive officer of Monsanto. Monsanto on Sept. 14 agreed to be acquired by Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer AG for $66 billion.

“This deal was struck because the overarching need to deliver innovations to growers continues as demand continues to climb,” Grant explained during the conference call. “I know that that may seem incongruent, especially when corn is below $4 a bushel and soybeans are below $10; however, the most recent (Oct. 5) report demonstrates that the demand trend remains both intact and robust. In fact, the trend line is more than 1 billion bushels of growth a year for corn and greater than 500 million bushels of growth a year for soybeans, which is consistent with the historical growth trends.

“Meeting that demand over the next decade would require a twofold increase in the rate of yield growth for corn and a fourfold increase for soybeans. Innovation, quite simply, is the best way to increase productivity to meet this projected demand. And our unique platform advantages provide this innovation.”

 Grant said Monsanto’s innovation platforms are “highly complementary” to Bayer’s crop protection business.

“We’re entering a new era in agriculture, one in which growers are demanding new solutions and technologies to be more profitable and more sustainable,” he said. “By pairing Bayer's exceptional crop protection portfolio with our Seeds and Traits and Climate FieldView platform, we expect to accelerate the rate and the delivery of advancements that will make a real difference on the farm. To get there from here, we need to close the deal and we’re confident in our path to do so.”