Cargill Inc.'s third-quarter earnings weren't much better than they were a year ago, but the agribusiness giant rebounded from 2011's ugly slump.

The company's food ingredients division, whose broad portfolio ranges from cooking oil to malted barley, led the way with a record quarter.

Minnetonka-based Cargill Inc., one of the world's largest privately held companies, Tuesday reported $766 million in earnings from continuing operations for its third quarter, up slightly from $763 million a year ago. Revenue increased 5 percent to $31.9 billion.

"Although it continues to be an unsettled year for the global economy, we did a better job navigating the uncertainty," Cargill Chief Executive Greg Page said in a news release.

Cargill had previously posted three consecutive quarters of falling earnings. The last two quarters featured particularly steep declines, and Cargill's fiscal second quarter marked its worst quarterly profit performance -- $100 million -- since 2001.

In December, the company announced a rare mass layoff, cutting up to 2,000 people or 1.5 percent of its global workforce.

Cargill has been buffeted by turmoil in global financial markets and cyclical downturns in some key businesses, notably beef and soybean processing.

But during its third quarter, the company said its origination and processing division -- home to its global grain trading, transportation and export business -- staged a "sharp rebound" from the preceding quarter's low.

Cargill's global food ingredients segment was the largest contributor to the company's improved third quarter, with profit up significantly from a year ago. Cargill got strong performances from its sweeteners business, which includes corn syrup, and its cocoa and chocolate operations.

The company's global meat business, which is under the umbrella of its food ingredients operation, improved during the quarter. But results were still well below last year due to profit pressures in its North American beef business.

Cargill said earnings for its agriculture services segment were "solid," though also lower than last year. Within that segment, Cargill's global animal feed operations posted an improved performance. But income decreased in farm services -- its U.S. and Canadian grain-handling business -- partly due to seasonal factors.

Third-quarter earnings in Cargill's risk management and financial services operation were slightly below year-ago levels, though its energy-trading business surged. The company's industrial business took a hit from the mild U.S. winter, which decreased demand for Cargill's road salt.

Cargill's earnings over nine months were $1.1 billion, down more than 50 percent from a year ago. Revenue was up 18 percent to $99.8 billion. Prior-year figures exclude earnings from Cargill's former majority investment in Mosaic Co.

Staff writer Susan Feyder contributed to this report. Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003