* Q3 EPS 64 cents vs. Street forecast 74 cents
* Revenue slips 1 pct to $2.19 bln; beats Street
* Potash sales already rebounding, CEO says
* Shares down nearly 3 pct in after-hours trading
By Ernest Scheyder
NEW YORK, March 28 (Reuters) - Mosaic Co posted a stark drop in quarterly profit as farmers bought less potash fertilizer and costs jumped in the phosphate fertilizer segment.
High prices for potash kept many customers from buying ahead of the spring planting season, which begins shortly in North America.
Chief Executive Jim Prokopanko blamed global economic concerns during the company’s December to February fiscal quarter for the weak results, but said sales are already on the rebound.
“We sold as much potash during one day last week as we did in all of January,” Prokopanko said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We’re starting to see at the end of March a strong recovery, and we are confident of a big April and May.”
Potash and phosphate — Mosaic’s two main products — are the second- and third-most important fertilizers that farmers apply, after nitrogen.
Despite Prokopanko’s confidence, the quarterly results spooked investors on Wall Street. The Minnesota-based company’s shares dropped 3 percent to $56.50 in after-hours trading.
For the fiscal third quarter ended Feb. 29, Mosaic reported net income of $273.3 million, or 64 cents per share, compared with $542.1 million, or $1.21 per share, in the year-ago period.
Analysts, on average, expected earnings of 74 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Revenue fell 1 percent to $2.19 billion. Analysts expected $2.13 billion in revenue.
Potash volumes fell 200,000 tonnes to 1.8 million tonnes during the quarter, as the price for the nutrient jumped to $453 per tonne from $358 per tonne in the year-ago period.
“There was bad sentiment in the agricultural chain,” Prokopanko said. “People held back from buying product. We’re already seeing that pass.”
Potash volumes could rebound to as much as 2.1 million tonnes in the current fiscal quarter, he said.
In the company’s phosphate segment, sales rose 17 percent, but an outage at a Louisiana ammonia plant sent costs up by $10 million, draining profit.
Despite the obstacles, Prokopanko said many of the issues that have plagued the company are now behind it.
Key among them was an agreement last month that settled a lawsuit between Mosaic and the Sierra Club that essentially allows the company to expand production at a major phosphate mine in South Fort Meade, Florida. The lawsuit had been a major overhang on the stock and unnerved many investors.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release its annual report on expected corn plantings this Friday. An average of analysts’ estimates in a Reuters poll pegged U.S. corn seedings at 94.72 million acres - the largest since 1944.
That would be great news for Mosaic, as corn requires large amounts of phosphate and potash fertilizers to grow well.
Prokopanko said he continues to expect U.S. farmers to plant 92 million acres of corn this year, a modest forecast compared with most analyst estimates.