Deere & Co. said retail orders were better than expected in the four weeks preceding its Nov. 25 conference call on fiscal fourth-quarter results.

"Bottom line — business has strengthened a bit from what we were expecting," Marie Ziegler, vice president of investor relations, said at a presentation.

Deere's early-order program for combine sales in North America is topping its estimates, she said. The orders are for equipment that wouldn't be used until the summer or fall.

"We expect to end the month of January with 85% to 90% of what we expect to retail for the year covered," Ziegler said on today's call.

Typically, at the time Deere announces its fourth-quarter results, the company would expect to have about 50% of the order book filled. Deere instead had about 75% of it filled, she said.

Deere fell 24 cents to $52.40 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have climbed 37% this year.