* Group net profit rises but lower excluding metals
* Oilseeds business drives higher volumes
* Dreyfus hails restructuring, eyes consumer push
* Grain results stay weak, loans to sugar unit mount (Writes through with detail)
By Gus Trompiz and Sybille de La Hamaide
PARIS, March 21 (Reuters) - Louis Dreyfus Company , one of the world’s largest agricultural commodity traders, said an overhaul of operations helped push profit up slightly in 2017 in the face of persistent weakness in crop markets.
The company, controlled by Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, said in a results statement that group net income rose to $317 million from $305 million in 2016.
Excluding discontinued metals operations, core profit, which the company calls segment operating results, edged up to $1.06 billion from $1.04 billion, stemming a decline from the two previous years.
Sales excluding metals rose to $43.0 billion from $40.6 billion, with Louis Dreyfus noting a 5 percent increase in shipped volumes to 81 million tonnes, driven by oilseeds.
“It speaks strongly of our ability to navigate difficult conditions, with very low price volatility levels and slow farmer selling for some platforms,” Chief Executive Gonzalo Ramirez Martiarena said in an accompanying annual report.
“I believe we are seeing the fruits of the strategic road map we have been implementing for the last two years.”
Louis Dreyfus has sold part of its fertiliser business and its whole metals operation as part of plans to focus on core activities such as grain and oilseed merchandising, and also plans to seek partners for its juice and dairy operations.
However, the divestment of the metals unit, which Louis Dreyfus in December agreed to sell to China’s NCCL Natural Resources Investment Fund, will remove one of its most profitable activities.
The annual results showed net profit from continuing operations fell to $224 million from $266 million in 2016.
The company has pledged to be more consumer-focused and it said it would look at expanding its portfolio of food brands, supported by a new “Food Innovation Project Team”.
Its peers in the so-called ABCD quartet of top agricultural trading houses, comprising Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge , Cargill and Dreyfus, have also been expanding into more specialist food activities to secure higher margins.
Dreyfus’ sales last year were fueled by higher volumes in oilseeds, notably towards China, and strong activity for the freight, cotton and rice platforms, it said.
The oilseed division also showed healthy crushing and logistics margins, in contrast to the grains business which saw “low results”.
The annual report again showed loans to troubled Brazilian sugar unit, an issue flagged by Louis Dreyfus’ auditors in its first-half results. These represented $831 million, mostly export prepayments.
The financing for listed Biosev, which said last week it was in talks to refinance 3.6 billion reais ($1.1 billion) of bank debt, represents a potential headwind for Louis Dreyfus as its majority shareholder faces a requirement to buy a minority group stake worth hundreds of millions of dollars. ($1 = 3.2895 reais) (Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)