Monsanto Co reported a quarterly loss on Wednesday instead of the break-even results Wall Street had expected, citing a steep slide in herbicide revenue and a smaller drop in key corn and soybean seed sales.

Monsanto, the world's largest seed company, reported a net loss of $19 million, or 3 cents a share, for the first quarter ended on November 30, compared with a year-earlier profit of $556 million, or $1.00 a share.

The results fell short of estimates as analysts were expecting a break-even quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The results pushed shares down 2.8 percent to $82.85 in trading before the market opened.

Monsanto said net sales decreased $952 million, or 36 percent, in the quarter, mainly because of decreased sales of its glyphosate-based herbicides, primarily in Brazil and Europe.

Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicide sales were off 63 percent in the quarter as volume and pricing slid, Monsanto said.

Gross profit for the total company totaled $739 million, down 52 percent, while the margin dropped 15 percentage points to 44 percent, largely driven by pricing adjustments for Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides.

St. Louis-based Monsanto has been shifting its focus away from the herbicide business, which has been suffering from growing competition and price pressure, to its more profitable seeds and traits business.

On Wednesday the company said it continues to see good growth ahead and cited strong demand for new corn and soybean seed products in the market this year, including its Genuity SmartStax corn, which is expected to be planted on more than 4 million acres.

Still, corn seed and traits net sales decreased 9 percent or $59 million in the quarter, the company said, due partly to a decrease in planted acres in Brazil and Argentina.

Soybean seed sales were depressed in the first quarter due to delays in harvesting last year's soybean crop, with volume expected to pick up in the second quarter, Monsanto said.

The company is targeting its new Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans for plantings on 8 million to 10 million acres, and said that sales to date were on pace to meet that target.

Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant said 2010 would be a critical year to helping the company meet a growth plan set for 2011 and 2012.

We believe it will only get better from here, Grant said in a statement.

Monsanto reiterated ongoing earnings per share guidance of $3.10 to $3.30 for 2010 and said it expected free cash flow in the range of $900 million to $1 billion.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, editing by Dave Zimmerman)