Fertilizer maker CF Industries Holdings, Inc., posted first-quarter profit of $282 million, with sales doubling on an acquisition and on high crop prices that fueled demand for ammonia and other nutrients used to grow corn.

Ammonia fertilizer CF Industries sold to customers averaged $494 per ton during the quarter, up 54 percent from $321 during the same period a year earlier, the Deerfield, Ill.-based company said in a May 5 statement. Sales volumes more than doubled, to 410,000 tons.

U.S. farmers are ramping up corn plantings this spring after prices for the grain doubled since the middle of 2010. Corn acreage is expected to increase 4.5 percent from this year to the second-highest level since the end of World War II, according to a government forecast.

“Grain prices remain high, providing farmers with compelling incentives to plant corn, wheat and cotton and to fertilize them optimally,” CF Industries said in the statement. “Farmers appear to be following through on spring planting intentions where possible and planning for large plantings in future years.”

Corn futures fell sharply this week but remain near record highs set in April. Despite high prices, consumption by major corn users, including ethanol companies and livestock feeders, shows little sign of slowing, the company said.

“Even with elevated corn prices, demand destruction has not been evident,” CF Industries said. The company is the largest nitrogen fertilizer company in North America.

CF Industries said it has high expectations for the spring selling season, even as a wet, cold spring delays fieldwork in much of the Midwest. If wet conditions persist, some farmers who initially intended to plant corn may switch to soybeans, which have a shorter growing season and don’t require nitrogen fertilizer.

Beyond the spring planting season, CF Industries said its outlook is “very positive,” noting that low global grain stocks “are expected to drive high plantings for the next several years.”

“Under current industry conditions, we believe that CF Industries will enjoy an extended period of strong profitability,” Stephen Wilson, CF industries chief executive officer, said in the statement.

“In the short term, we are positioned for a very good spring,” Wilson said. “Longer term, the combination of tight grain markets, the favorable cost position of North American nitrogen producers, and our unmatched flexibility in product movement make us very optimistic.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects U.S. farmers will plant more than 90 million acres of corn every year through 2015, “which would provide a very supportive demand environment for the company's products,” CF Industries said.

According to a USDA forecast released March 31, the nation’s farmers will plant an estimated 92.18 million acres to corn in 2011, up from 88.19 million in 2010. The projected acreage for 2011 would trail only 2007 plantings of 93.5 million acres as the highest total since 1944.

Corn, soybean and wheat seedings are estimated at 226.8 million acres, up 3.5 percent from last year and the highest combined total since 1984, according to the USDA.

In late trading May 6, corn futures for May delivery in Chicago fell 24 cents to $6.81 a bushel. Prices are down 13 percent from an all-time high of $7.83 ¾ reached April 11.

CF Industries’ first-quarter net income of $282 million compares to a loss of $x million in the same period a year earlier. Net sales in the quarter were $1.17 billion, up from $502 million a year earlier and partly reflecting last year’s purchase of competitor Terra Industries Inc.

Shares of CF Industries rose $8.99, or 7 percent, to $138.24 in afternoon trading May 6. The stock is up almost 89 percent over the past 12 months.