By Robert Harris

ASSOCIATED British Foods has reported a sharp increase in profit for its primary food and agriculture business after a year of restructuring.

Operating profits in the sector, which includes British Sugar, Allied Grain and ABNA, the feed and grain trading arm, rose almost 10% to 172 million in the year ending 15 September, 2001, on sales which rose by 3.6% to 1.87bn.

British Sugar “virtually maintained” last years profit level despite a 10m charge for closing three factories.

A lower sugar crop and higher energy costs also impacted on the figure, said chief executive Peter Jackson.

“However, the higher quality of the crop, the skill of the growers in harvesting in extremely wet conditions and excellent factory performances mostly offset the effect of higher costs.”

Agriculture group ABNA increased profit and share of the poultry and pig markets.

The integration of Fishers and ABN resulting in the closure of Cranswick Mill helped performance.

Mr Jackson added that Allied Grain significantly increased overall market share, despite a reduction in seed and fertiliser markets.

Total operating profits at ABF, which includes ingredient and retail businesses both in the UK and abroad, rose 3% to 351m on marginally increased sales of 4.43bn.