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While much attention of late has been on support for local, and organic farming, and on ending forms of farm subsidies in the United States, the agriculture business is a permanent part of our economy. With a steady population shift away from subsistence farming toward urban living worldwide, and consistent worldwide population growth, efficient food production is essential, and investors can do well. In this article, I examine 5 stocks that I believe to be long term buy ideas in the agriculture space.

Cresud, Inc. (NASDAQ:CRESY)

Cresud, Inc. is listed on NASDAQ, and recently traded at about $11.25, near the low end of its 52 week range of from $20.00 to $9.55. CRESY has a market capitalization of about $560 million, a trailing P/E ratio of 13, and pays an annual dividend of $0.33 for a yield of 2.9%.

CRESY operates farms in South America, with a focus on Argentina. It also has acquired majority interests in a variety of publicly traded Argentinian and Brazilian companies. Most of these tend to be involved in real estate development, and combined, contribute a generous amount of CRESY's profits and book value.

Because of the diversity of real estate and agribusiness in CRESY's control, it has been able to maintain profitability despite historical drought conditions in Argentina in 2008 and 2009. The nation of Argentina is also enjoying tremendous growth, and the government is committed to infrastructure. CRESY is a great play on future growth in Argentina.

Deere and Company (NYSE:DE)

Deere and Company is listed on the NYSE, and was trading recently at about $75 per share, near the midpoint of its 52 week range of from $99.80 to $59.92. It has a market capitalization of over $31 billion. Its trailing P/E ratio is 12, and it pays an annual dividend of $1.64 for a yield of 2.2%.

In its most recent quarter, DE reported revenues increased over 20% year to year, and earnings increased to $904 million, or $2.12 per share. DE also boasts an impressive 38% return on equity, and generous cash flow enough to fund its dividend and invest adequately in future growth.

With it being a certainty that more food will be needed in the future than in the present, DE's advanced products, as well as its worldwide reach, auger well for its future. Long term growth investors would do well to investigate further.

Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (NYSE:POT)

Potash Corporation is listed on the NYSE, where its stock is currently trading at about $48, near the low end of its 52 week range of from $63.97 to $39.54. It has a market capitalization of about $41 billion, and a trailing P/E ratio of 14.5. POT pays an annual dividend of $0.28, for a yield of 0.60%.

By any measure, POT recorded an excellent third quarter. It netted $826 million, a 147% increase from the year earlier. Its long term prospects are nearly as bright. It is a worldwide distributor not of potash, potassium, and nitrogen, the three central ingredients of nearly all fertilizers. With worldwide population growth, demands for fertilizer components are very likely to increase.

Equally impressive about POT is its internal numbers. Its profit margin is 36%, and its return on equity is 38%. Leading competitor The Mosaic Company (NYSE:MOS) recorded a profit margin of 25% and return on equity of 26%.. Other competitors Agrium, Inc. and CF Industries, Inc. are described below.

I view POT as a long term, growth play. Further investigation is warranted.

Agrium, Inc. (NYSE:AGU)

Agrium, Inc., is listed on the NYSE and has been trading at about $79 per share, near the midpoint of its 52 week range of from $99.14 to $60.15. Its market capitalization is a little over $12 billion, and its P/E ratio is 11.4. The stock currently pays an annual dividend of $0.11, for a yield of 0.10%.

AGU also posted an excellent set of results for its most recent quarter. Net earnings were $293 million compared to $61 million in the third quarter of 2010. It also stands to benefit from increasing food demands as it supplies fertilizer and agricultural supply products. Yet, its secondary numbers do not meet up with POT's to be sure. AGU's profit margin for the trailing full year was 11.5% and return on equity was 20%.

AGU stands to benefit over the long run due to the same factors as POT. Yet, POT's management has a better history of putting the company's cash to work, and POT is where I would put my money.

CF Industries, Inc. (NYSE:CF)

CF Industries, Inc. is listed on the NYSE, and was recently trading at about $174, toward the upper end of its 52 week range of from $192.70 to $112.23. It has a market capitalization of about $12.5 billion, and a trailing P/E ratio of 12.3. CF currently pays an annual dividend of $1.60 per share, for an effective yield of 0.90%.

CF is a worldwide distributor of fertilizer components, and will no doubt benefit from the same long term food trends as the other fertilizer companies. It similarly posted an excellent third quarter of 2011. It recorded profits of $330 million, compared to the $48 million it recorded in the same quarter of 2010.

CF also sells potassium, nitrogen, and urea based products for industrial applications. As such, it is not a pure play on the agricultural sector.. Its secondary number for the third quarter, 2011 were solid, with a 38% profit margin and a 25% return on equity.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Source: 5 Great Ways To Play The Worldwide Agriculture Boom