Just as a seed planted in fertile soil grows into a healthy plant given the right conditions and care, a beginner venturing into the realm of agricultural futures trading plants a seed of knowledge.

With patience, persistence, and the right nourishment, this seed of understanding will gradually grow, transforming the novice into a seasoned trader – and laying the groundwork for a bounteous harvest of success.

To help you get there, let’s start with the basics.


What are Agriculture Futures Contracts and How Do They Work?

Agricultural futures contracts are standardized agreements to buy or sell a specific amount of an agricultural commodity (corn, soybeans, or wheat etc.) at a predetermined price and future date. They’re traded on futures exchanges and allow farmers, manufacturers, speculators, and investors to manage risk or speculate on price changes.

Pricing of these contracts hinges on the commodity’s current spot price, expected changes in supply and demand, and the time until contract expiration. For instance, a corn futures contract might be priced higher during planting season due to uncertainty about the upcoming harvest.


Benefits of Trading Agriculture Futures Contracts

Trading in agricultural futures offers numerous benefits, including price discovery, hedging opportunities and speculation opportunities. 

Futures markets provide valuable information about expected future prices of commodities, aiding decision-making for producers and consumers.

Producers and consumers use futures contracts to lock in prices and protect against adverse price movements. A farmer might sell wheat futures to secure a price for his crop months before harvest.

Traders can speculate on price changes to potentially make a profit. For instance, if a trader expects a poor soybean harvest and rising prices, they could buy soybean futures.


Getting Started with Trading Agriculture Futures Contracts

Here’s a primer on starting your journey in agricultural futures trading:

To trade futures, you’ll need a futures trading account with a registered broker. Different brokers offer various types of accounts and fee structures. It’s important to choose one that suits your needs and risk tolerance.

Next, choose a commodity you’re interested in and understand. If you’re familiar with the corn industry, for instance, corn futures might be a good starting point.

Finally, your trading strategy should align with your market outlook, risk tolerance, and trading objectives. Are you hedging, speculating, or both? Your strategy will guide your trading decisions.


Risks Associated with Trading Agricultural Futures Contracts

Trading agricultural futures isn’t without risks. Agricultural commodities can be highly volatile, influenced by factors like weather, disease, and global demand.

Futures trading involves leverage, which can magnify both profits and losses.If a trade moves against you, you may face a margin call requiring additional capital.

Traders may also face liquidity risks when low trading volume is present, which can lead to wide gaps in the bid and the ask.

Many futures exchanges also establish daily price limits for each contract. If the price moves up or down by the limit amount, trading may be halted, which could potentially lock you into a position or prevent you from entering one.

Traders should also be aware of basis risk. This refers to the risk that the price of the commodity in the futures market does not move in sync with the price in the spot market. This can affect those using futures for hedging purposes.

Risk management techniques, like using stop-loss orders and diversifying your portfolio, can help mitigate some of these risks.


Common Strategies for Trading Agricultural Futures Contracts

There are several strategies for trading agricultural futures. Fundamental analysis involves assessing the intrinsic value of a commodity based on economic factors, such as supply and demand. For example, a trader might look at USDA reports on crop yields or weather forecasts that could affect harvests. If their analysis suggests that supply will be lower than demand, pushing prices higher, they might decide to buy a futures contract. Conversely, if they predict an oversupply that could lead to lower prices, they might sell a futures contract.

Technical analysis focuses on analyzing statistical trends gathered from trading activity, such as price movement and volume. Traders use various chart patterns and technical indicators (like moving averages, relative strength index, etc.) to predict future price movements. For example, a trader might buy a futures contract if the price breaks above a resistance level on a chart, expecting a further upward move. Conversely, they might sell if the price drops below a support level, anticipating further declines.

Other strategies include:

  •  Trend Following – this involves buying futures when prices are trending up and selling when they’re trending down.
  •  Spread Trading – a spread trade occurs when buying and selling two related futures contracts simultaneously to capitalize on the price difference.
  •  Seasonal Trading – This exploits predictable seasonal price changes in agricultural commodities.


Staying Informed About Agriculture Futures Markets

Staying informed is crucial for successful trading. Market reports, news sources, industry publications, and trading platforms offer valuable insights into market trends and developments. Regular analysis of this data and a well-developed trading plan can guide your trading decisions.

Trading agricultural futures contracts offers a world of opportunities for those willing to navigate the inherent risks. With an understanding of what these contracts are, how they work, and the strategies to trade them, beginners can step into this exciting realm with increased confidence.


How R.J. O’Brien Can Help

R.J. O’Brien’s expertise in agriculture commodities futures trading offers powerful benefits for traders, including access to our extensive collection of research and analysis, customized trading strategies, and risk management tools.

Our advanced platform is also backed up by a team of advisors who are true domain experts in their field.

Contact R.J. O’Brien today to learn how we can help you get started.