CHICAGO — Archer Daniels Midland Co. battled through a difficult external environment to post strong sales in the third quarter of fiscal 2019.

ADM net income in the period ended Sept. 30 was $407 million, equal to 72c per share on the common stock, down 24% from $536 million, or 94c, in the third quarter of 2018. Net sales, meanwhile, were $16,726 million, up nearly 6% from $15,800 million.

“Our team delivered solid results this quarter,” Juan R. Luciano, president and chief executive officer, said during an Oct. 31 conference call with analysts. “We stayed focus on the levers we could control, advancing our strategic plan despite the difficult external environment. North American grain export volumes on margins remained limited. Crush margins were far off their record-high 2018 levels, and ethanol industry margins remained challenged. Despite all of these, we delivered a performance consistent with the perspectives we provided last quarter, including a strong year-over-year growth in our Nutrition business.”

Operating profit in the newly combined Ag Services and Oilseeds segment totaled $417 million in the third quarter, down 13% from $478 million in the same period a year ago. Sales were $12,616 million, up from $12,260 million.

“In North America, improved merchandising results, particularly from ownership positions in corn and soybeans, helped to offset a weak U.S. export environment,” said Ray G. Young, executive vice-president and chief financial officer. “South American results were higher as we captured better origination margin opportunities in Brazil compared to the previous year, and export volumes from Argentina increased.

“Crush results were down year-over-year. Global crush margins have come down from the record-high levels of last year, but our teams, nevertheless, delivered solid margins in North America and EMEA in the third quarter. In South America, margins were pressured by higher input costs, caused by continued Chinese demand for Brazilian soybeans. Overall, our global crush margins benefit from positive net timing effects of approximately $50 million during the third quarter.”

Looking ahead to the fourth quarter, Mr. Young said ADM expects Ag Services and Oilseeds results to be “substantially” lower year-over-year, but to be stronger than during the third quarter of 2019.

Carbohydrate Solutions operating profit was $182 million in the third quarter, down 37% from $288 million in the same period last year. Sales were $2,565 million, up narrowly from $2,534 million.

“Starches and Sweeteners results were down versus the third quarter of 2018,” Mr. Young explained. “In North America, higher net corn costs pressured margins, partially offset by lower manufacturing costs, including the benefits of our work to improve the reliability of our Decatur (Ill.) corn complex. Starch volumes remains steady.

“In EMEA, continued challenging marketing conditions, including pressure from Turkish sweetener quotas and lower liquid sweetener prices impacting Central and Eastern European operations, led to lower results for the year. In wheat milling, an increase in sales volume was more than offset by lower margins due to limited opportunities in wheat procurement.”

Operating profits from the company’s Nutrition business were $118 million, up from $67 million in the third quarter last year. Sales were $1,457 million, up 58% from $922 million.

“WFSI results were significantly higher than the prior-year quarter with growth across the portfolio,” Mr. Young said. “Wild flavors delivered its strongest quarterly profit ever. Sales were up 16% year-over-year on a constant currency basis. Organic sales, excluding acquisitions, were up 7%.

“In Specialty Ingredients, the protein business continued to expand, powered by our leadership position in supplying solutions to meet growing customer demand for alternative proteins. Continued contributions from our growth investments in bioactives and fibers support the higher results in the Health & Wellness business.”

Year-to-date net income at ADM was $875 million, or $1.55 per share, down 42% from $1,495 million, or $2.64 per share, in the same period year ago. Revenues were $48,327 million, down from $48,394 million.

Mr. Luciano said ADM continued to deliver on its strategic plan during the third quarter. Within its optimize pillar the company completed its previously announced transaction with Cargill to exchange grain elevators in Illinois and Indiana. The company also celebrated the opening of its new mill in Mendota, Ill.

In the drive pillar, ADM saw benefits of improved analytics, technologies and processes, while in the expand pillar the company has taken steps to capitalize on major global trends by opening new plant protein facilities in Campo Grande, Brazil, and Enderlin, N.D.