BASEL, Switzerland (AP) _ Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis AG's sales edged up 1 percent in the first half as gains in the drug and healthcare products businesses offset a decline in agricultural product sales.

Novartis said Thursday its sales from continuing operations rose to 16.3 billion Swiss francs, or $10.3 billion, from 16.2 billion francs a year ago.

Earnings figures will be released Aug. 26.

The company's key healthcare division, which includes drugs, posted a 6 percent rise to $5.7 billion while sales in the consumer health division also rose 6 percent to $1.6 billion.

But the agricultural products division, which is being overhauled under new leadership, saw sales fall 10 percent to $3 billion.

Chief financial officer Raymund Breu said the division is in the midst of a cyclical downturn and that its management needs time to put through its program until the farming industry rebounds.

Breu said Novartis' top priority is to expand its drugs business. For the period going from the year 2000 to 2002, Breu said the company has 14 new products for launch in the pipeline.

``So we want to get those launches right,'' he said. ``We don't want to get sidetracked.''