Seed company Monsanto Co., (NYSE: MON) posted a net income for its fiscal second quarter higher than analysts’ expectations on Wednesday on strong sales of corn seed as U.S. farmers begin to fill the anticipated need for corn-based ethanol fuel.

The St. Louis, Mo.-based firm reported earnings and sales that were up 23 percent and 19 percent respectively from the same period a year ago. The firm posted earnings of $548 million, or 98 cents per share, on sales of $2.6 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial had expected 94 cents per share on $2.44 billion in revenue.

“While the 2007 agriculture season is shaping up to be an outstanding one, the strong demand that we've seen for our higher-yielding corn seeds and our higher-margin, triple-trait corn technology has translated into an excellent second quarter and first half for our business,” said CEO and Chairman Hugh Grant.

The firm said that corn seed sales for the quarter were $1.19 billion, up from $811 million during the same quarter a year ago.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that U.S. farmers intend to plant 15 percent more corn acres in 2007, 90.5 million, the largest area since 1944. The growth is due to

The company boosted its profit estimate range for the year of $1.60 to $1.65, up from $1.50 to $1.57.

Shares of Monsanto rose $1.79, or 3.2 percent, to close at $57.79 percent on the New York Stock Exchange.