Cargill, the world’s biggest agricultural trader, is heading for its most profitable year on the back of disruptions to global food supplies.

The privately owned US company reported a net profit of $3.48bn in the nine months through February, compared with a record annual profit of $3.95bn in 2007-2008. In its third-quarter, net profit was $1.11bn, up 23 per cent from the previous year, boosted mainly by trading and shipping bulk commodities such as grains and soyabean oil.

As unrest gathered in the Middle East , countries from Algeria to Saudi Arabia announced extraordinary purchases of wheat. One of Cargill’s largest grain customers is Egypt, where it briefly closed offices amid protests against the Mubarak government.

Stockpiling by governments combined with strong demand in emerging markets drove the prices of key commodities higher. Corn and cotton, both traded by Cargill, reached new records.

“Cargill posted solid earnings in a period of volatile commodity markets and geopolitical change,” said Greg Page, chairman and chief executive.

He added: “All of us in agriculture are living with high levels of price volatility, in which small changes in the quantity of production are having dramatic impacts on price.”

Chart: Cargill net income

In January, Cargill agreed spin off its 64 per cent stake in fertiliser producer Mosaic, in a $24.3bn deal to satisfy a shareholder who wanted to cash out. The Minnesota-based company is controlled by about 80 members of the Cargill and MacMillan families.

Mosaic, which had separately reported record third-quarter earnings of $542.1m, plans to put the spin-off to a shareholder vote May 11.

Cargill said settlements have been agreed in principle with Mosaic shareholders who challenged the deal in court. Excluding contributions from Mosaic, Cargill earned $763m in the quarter, up 30 per cent from $588m a year before. In the first nine months, earnings excluding Mosaic were $2.29bn, a 47 per cent rise on the previous year.

The food ingredients business, which includes starches and sweeteners from Cargill corn mills and beef from its packing plants, saw “moderately” higher profits as they faced higher input costs. Prices for live cattle, which Cargill buys from feed lots, have surged to record levels this year.

A snowy US winter boosted earnings in Cargill’s industrial segment, whose products include road salt. Profits declined slightly at its agriculture services business, which sells animal feed and advises farmers on selling crops.

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