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Michael Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Agrium.

TODD KOROL/TODD KOROL/REUTERS

Fertilizer maker and farm product retailer Agrium Inc. has reported lower first-quarter net earnings on hedging and share-based compensation charges.

The Calgary-based company booked net earnings of $155-million (U.S.), or 97 cents per share, compared to $171-million, or $1.09, a year earlier.

The results for the first three months of 2012 included a loss of $13-million on natural gas and other hedge positions and a $64-million share-based payment expense.

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Without those factors, earnings would have been $210-million.

Sales were $3.6-billion, up from nearly $3-billion a year earlier.

Agrium expects to earn $5.50 to $6.10 per share during the first half of 2012, excluding hedging impacts or share-based payment expenses.

"Crop prices remain well above historical levels, providing a strong economic incentive for growers to optimize use of all crop inputs in order to maximize their yields and profitability," chief executive officer Mike Wilson said in a release.

"Favourable weather has enabled growers to get a very early start on spring planting and applications and we have seen strong movement of nutrients and other crop inputs, as some of retail's business was brought forward into the first quarter.

"Our wholesale operations are expected to benefit in the second quarter from rising nitrogen and falling North American natural gas prices."

Agrium is poised for growth in its retail business following an agreement earlier this year to buy 90 per cent of grain handler Viterra's 258 Canadian and 17 Australian farm centres, among other assets. The purchase price is expected to be about $1.65-billion.

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Viterra is being acquired by Swiss-based Glencore, which in turn is selling off most of the Regina company's assets to Agrium and Winnipeg-based Richardson International.

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