Lower grain prices boosted Cargill Inc.’s animal feed and meat processing businesses in the latest quarter, as earnings climbed 36 percent over a year ago.

This year’s big corn crop — the main cause of falling corn prices — also helped Cargill’s grain handling business, including its big export trade.

Minnetonka-based Cargill, one of the world’s largest private companies, on Thursday reported net ­earnings of $556 million for the quarter ended Nov. 30, up from $409 million a year ago. Second-quarter ­revenue was $32.9 billion, down 7 percent.

Cargill operates in 67 countries and has four major divisions that house dozens of businesses, from chocolate production to cotton trading. “Cargill posted a solid second quarter, with earnings improved in three of four segments,” David MacLennan, Cargill’s CEO said in a news release.

“The company’s results were supported in part by 2013’s improved crop production. The impact on supply and demand caused prices for agricultural commodities to come down from last year’s highs, providing relief to Cargill’s animal nutrition [feed] and protein [meat] segment,” MacLennan said.

With a record corn crop, corn prices fell from a range of $7 to $8 per bushel in 2012 to below $5 per bushel since last summer. Corn is the key ingredient in animal feed, and Cargill is a huge force in the feed business.

Falling feed costs were a plus

Animal feed is a key input for Cargill’s meat production business, so falling feed costs helped on that front. Cargill is one of the largest U.S. beef packers and turkey processors, and is a big player in the hog business, too.

Earnings in the company’s animal nutrition and protein segment, which encompasses feed and meat, rose significantly. Beef processing did ­particularly well.

Cargill’s food ingredients segment, the largest contributor to the firm’s second-quarter results, was up slightly from a year ago. It was a strong quarter for the cocoa powder trade and ethanol exports from the United States. But many ingredients businesses experienced softer demand due to remaining sluggishness in the global economy, Cargill said.

Cargill’s agricultural supply chain division posted a decrease in profits due partly to excess capacity in the soybean crushing business, decreasing the company’s own soybean processing volumes. The capacity surplus is particularly acute in Argentina, said Lisa Clemens, a Cargill spokeswoman.

However, within that division, Cargill’s North American agricultural profits grew due to higher grain exports and grain handling volumes. Big corn, wheat and soybean crops helped, too.

Earnings in Cargill’s industrial and financial services division increased slightly, buoyed partly by increasing demand for the ocean transport of coal and iron ore. Cargill is one of the world’s largest charterers of seaborne vessels.