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  • Writer's pictureJacob Kubela

"Grain Marketing: Understanding Basis Contracts"

Grain marketing is an essential aspect of the agricultural business, helping farmers manage risk and attain favorable prices for their produce. One of the tools at their disposal is the "basis contract." In this article, we will delve into the details of grain marketing basis contracts, understanding their function, advantages, and potential pitfalls.

1. What is a Basis Contract?

A basis contract is a marketing tool used in the grain industry that allows the producer to set or lock in the basis but not the futures price. The basis is essentially the difference between the local cash price of the grain and the futures market price.

Formula: Basis = Cash Price - Futures Price

For instance, if the local cash price for corn is $4.50 per bushel and the futures market price is $4.70, the basis would be -$0.20.

2. How Does a Basis Contract Work?

Once a farmer enters into a basis contract, they are locking in the basis level for a specified quantity of grain and for a specific future delivery period. The actual futures price, however, is determined at a later date, either by the farmer's choice or by the contract's expiration.

3. Benefits of Basis Contracts:

  1. Flexibility: Allows the producer to secure a favorable basis while maintaining the opportunity to capitalize on potential upward movements in the futures market.

  2. Risk Management: Provides protection against weakening basis, which might occur due to localized surpluses or other factors.

  3. Cash Flow: Producers can utilize basis contracts to make a delivery and get an advance against the grain's final value.

4. Potential Pitfalls:

  1. Missed Opportunities: If the futures market drops after locking in the basis, producers may face lower revenues than they would have if they had locked in the entire price.

  2. Contractual Obligations: Failure to deliver the specified grain quantity can result in penalties.

  3. Complexity: Understanding and managing basis contracts requires knowledge, which might be challenging for some producers.

5. When to Use a Basis Contract?

Basis contracts are most beneficial when:

  • The local basis is stronger than historical averages.

  • The farmer is bullish on the futures market and believes prices might rise.

  • Immediate cash flow is needed, but the producer wants to retain potential price appreciation.

6. Tips for Using Basis Contracts:

  1. Stay Informed: Always be aware of local basis trends and historical averages.

  2. Seek Advice: If unsure, consult with grain marketing advisors or brokers to get a better understanding of the current market scenario.

  3. Use in Combination: Basis contracts can be combined with other marketing tools to form a comprehensive risk management strategy.


Basis contracts are a vital instrument in the toolkit of grain producers. When used judiciously, they offer a blend of flexibility and protection that can help farmers navigate the often unpredictable waters of grain pricing. However, like all tools, they are most effective when used with understanding and caution. Farmers should invest time in learning about them and, when necessary, seek expert guidance.

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