Grain Trading

Grain trading is a global market and is arguably the most critical of all commodities for the human race to sustain itself.  The remit of grains is large, and the commodities included in this commodity sector numerous.  Imperium Commodity Search has a broad experience across numerous grain and cereal grain products from both a physical and derivative perspective across trading houses, merchandisers and brokerages.  

Imperium Commodity Search maintain relationships across the global grains markets, with a particularly strong portfolio across the European and American grain trading space.  Our consultants stay up to date with the global grain markets to be ready to capitalise on opportunities for our clients and candidates alike. 

What are Grains? 

Grain refers to ‘cereal grain’, or any cultivated grain product used in either animal or human food or consumption.  In commodities the key cereal grains are: 

Wheat – Wheat is arguably the most important of all grain products, going into the production of flour that is used in the manufacturing of numerous human food products including bread, pasta and pastries.  Wheat is used globally and consumed in huge volumes.  Alongside its obvious uses in human consumption, wheat is also used as an animal feed in the livestock industry. 

Corn – Corn, also known as maize, is a staple grain product used in animal and human food production, as well as a feedstock for biofuel and biodiesel.  Corn has been grown for human consumption for almost 10,000 years.  Corn now accounts for a larger percentage of global grain production than wheat and rice, making it a very important commodity in the global economy/markets.  The US Midwest is the largest corn producing region in the world. 

Oats – Oats are a high fibre grain, used in the human food chain as well as a key animal feed ingredient.  Alongside food applications, oats are used in some cosmetics such as hand cream.  Oats are commonly grown in more temperate/colder climates as they grow quicker than wheat or rice in these conditions.  They are less used in countries where the production of rice and wheat is widespread due to climate. 

Barley – Barley, similar to other grains, is primarily used in human and animal feed.  Alongside this, it is also commonly grown to produce alcohol and is a key ingredient in many alcoholic beverages such as beer and lager.  Barley grows well in colder conditions and comes in two strains; winter barley and spring barley.  Winter barley is planted around October time and spring barley from January onwards.

Rice – Rice is a common and staple foodstuff in human consumption across the world, but especially so in Asia, South America and the Middle East.  Rice is harvested as ‘paddy rice’ or ‘rough rice’ which is the entire grain including the husk or shell surrounding the brown rice.  This is removed during production to go into the food industry.  For animal feed this is usually left as the whole grain.  Rice grows best in hot/temperate climates. 

How are grains traded? 

Grains are traded globally on physical markets and also one of the largest hedged/derivative traded commodity groups in the world.  Most grain products are traded in a similar way, and their prices are linked due to the grains being interchangeable for animal feed applications.  Traders monitor the relative differences in price between cereal grains to identify the spread and relative value of each grain. 

Merchandisers are buyers, sourcers and purchasers of grain products, often working for elevators and stockists to purchase grain from farmers directly and store this to be sold on and shipped into food production facilities or feed applications.  Merchandisers will maintain relationships with farms and then purchase they crop at yield time to be stored at their employer’s elevators or silo’s.  Much of this grain is sold into processors who further process the product or add additives to the product for retailing.  Other grains are sold directly into animal feed retailers or direct to farms.  Grain Merchandisers often have responsibility for the logistics and shipping of the grain product from farm to elevator and elevator to processor and can also be involved in assisting with fertilizer transactions and yield forecasts with the farmers that they work with. 

Grain Traders deal with both sides of the trade, purchasing product from farms and selling the product into customers and end users directly.  In the UK this is a common form of the grain trading cycle and many firms employ end to end or back to back grain traders.  It is common for physical grain traders to also maintain a derivative book for hedging purposes, managing positions to guard against price volatility through the futures markets. 

Risk Management and Hedging professionals trade the many futures contracts in the grain markets and take positions to hedge against price risk on the physical trade.  Many grain products have linked prices to some degree so hedging is an important skill to ensure that the trades are secure and not open to large spikes or dips in the markets. 

Proprietary Traders utilise grain futures and derivative contracts for profit, trading on the numerous exchanges that offer grain futures and options contracts globally.  Notably the CBOT (Chicago Board of Trade) which offers futures contracts across all major cereal grains. 

Where are Grains traded?  

Grains are used globally in food production and animal feed and account for a staggering number of jobs across the world.  Almost 1 billion people work in farming globally and over half of these work in grain commodities.  This equates to almost 15% of the total working global population.  As there are different markets for each of the key cereal grain trading products, we look at the largest importers and exporters of both below: 


The largest exporters of Wheat (in USD) are: 

  • Russia (8.4bn)
  • Canada (5.7bn)
  • USA (5.5bn)
  • France (4.1bn)
  • Australia (3.1bn)

The largest importers of Wheat (in USD) are: 

  • Indonesia (2.6bn)
  • Egypt (2.2bn)
  • Algeria (1.84bn)
  • Italy (1.82bn)
  • Philippines (1.7bn)


The largest exporters of Corn (in USD) are:  

  • USA (12.9bn)
  • Argentina (4.2bn)
  • Brazil (4.1bn)
  • Ukraine (3.5bn)
  • France (1.7bn)
The largest importers of Corn (in USD) are: 
  • Japan (3.4bn)
  • Mexico (3.3bn)
  • South Korea (2.1bn)
  • Spain (1.9bn)
  • Vietnam (1.9bn)


The largest producers of Oats (in MT) are: 

  • Russia (4.02m)
  • Canada (2.7m)
  • Poland (1.4m)
  • Finland (1.15m)
  • Australia (1.05m)
The largest importers of Oats (in %) are:
  • USA (43.4%)
  • Mexico (11.1%)
  • India (7.5%)
  • Colombia (5%)
  • Guatemala (2.9%)

The largest exporters of Barley (in USD) are: 

  • Australia (1.4bn)
  • France (1.3bn)
  • Russia (1bn)
  • Ukraine (681m)
  • Argentina (561m)
The largest importers of Barley (in MT) are: 
  • China (10.7m)
  • Saudi Arabia (6.5m)
  • Belgium (1.6m)
  • Netherlands (1.5m)
  • Germany (1.4m)
The largest exporters of Rice (in USD) are: 
  • India (7.4bn)
  • Thailand (5.6bn)
  • Vietnam (2.2bn)
  • Pakistan (2bn)
  • USA (1.7bn)
The largest importers of Rice (in USD) are: 
  • China (1.6bn)
  • Iran (1.21bn)
  • Saudi Arabia (1.2bn)
  • Indonesia (1bn)
  • USA (950m)

Who are the biggest players? 

The global grain trading markets are vast and the sizes and product range of the trading houses involved are equally spread.  The largest grain trading companies in the world are known as the ABCD companies and include Archer Daniels Midland (USA), Bunge (USA), Cargill (USA) and Louis Dreyfus Company / LDC (Netherlands).  Between the four companies it is estimated that they account for over 75% of the global grain trade.  

What is the Salary for a Grain trader? 

For physical traders the salary for a mid-seniority trader can be anywhere from 60,000-150,000USD dependant upon region and client base.  This is supplemented by a bonus or revenue share on PnL or profit.  Junior traders entering the physical markets for the first time can expect to earn around 40,000USD base salary during their training years. 

Prop traders covering the grain markets can earn any multiple of this, sometimes generating millions on trading the global grain markets.  Flow traders working in hedge funds and asset management firms working amidst the grain futures world can also earn many multiples of what a physical trader does. 

Grain Trading Headhunter and Recruitment Agency Services: 

Imperium Commodity Search has a broad coverage of the trading and brokerage space within the global grain markets.  Whilst we spread ourselves on product, we operate in the niche of traders and logistics professionals only and maintain networks with exceptional clients and candidates in the space, particularly across Europe, the USA and Dubai/Middle East.  Our consultants are fully trained on all grain products and have experience working trading roles on various products, regions and export markets globally. 

To discuss finding your next role within grain trading, operations and sourcing, or to find out how Imperium Commodity Search can give your firm a competitive edge in a volatile market, then please call us now on +44 (0) 203 927 5090 or register online here and one of our Grain / Soft Commodity Consultants will contact you ASAP.

View our current grain trading and merchandising jobs or contact one of our consultants to discuss current careers / jobs in grain trading to discuss your needs in more detail. 

To arrange a consultation with a consultant to discuss your hiring needs / growth plans and where we can assist click here or contact one of our consultants directly here for a confidential discussion.

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