If you use the futures market and haven't heard of Project A, listen up.

In fact, if you've missed a great hedging opportunity because it was gone before you could act, read this article to the last period.

Project A is the Chicago Board of Trade's (CBOT) relatively new electronic-trading-at-night program that just got better.

"It's 21st century technology now," enthuses Vic Lespinasse, a corn and soybean trader with A.G. Edwards.

Electronic trading, of course, with its big advantage of immediate trading, is old hat in the financial markets.

"It has had enormous success, and it continues to grow very rapidly," points out Lespinasse. "And I think the same thing will happen with the grain futures market."

Project A was born in 1996. But due to a clamoring of demand, CBOT officials extended its hours by opening at 9 p.m. instead of 10:30 p.m., says Katie Spring, CBOT's assistant manager of ag communications. And the board's Ag Advisory Committee would like to see the hours lengthened even more.

Electronic trading, Spring and Lespinasse explain, is trading by computer, without a centralized trading floor, such as CBOT. It's done overnight, so it isn't competing with normal daytime, conventional, open-cry trading.

Farmers and others can't execute trades on their own computers. But all they have to do is call a broker like A.G. Edwards. Project A work stations are available in Chicago, Memphis, New York City, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, London and, soon, Japan.

"One could be anywhere in the world and execute a trade," asserts Lespinasse. "All you need is a telephone to communicate with your broker, and you can take advantage of impact-type news that can affect the market immediately - and affect your bottom line."

It's very quick; very efficient. And you know immediately if your order got filled or not - no waiting around. If it's a market order, it is executed instantaneously.

Let's compare the before and now of this new technology.

Before, consider the case of a three-day holiday weekend, for example. Say a USDA bulletin or a yield-impacting weather announcement comes in late Friday. Either could trigger an emotional, price-affecting action in the futures market. It might be the following Tuesday before you could execute a futures trade. By then, opportunity may have evaporated.

Flash forward to now. With electronic overnight trading, there is no wait. You can do it pronto - virtually instantly!

The market waits for no one, reminds Lespinasse. Market-impact news can happen anytime. When something happens elsewhere in the world, oftentimes it might be day there but evening or even the middle of the night in the U.S.

"Electronic trading gives one the opportunity to take advantage of these situations, if they precipitate price moves that are to your advantage."

Farmers aren't the only ones who now have a new opportunity to trade overnight in the futures market. The speculator, processor and exporter all have gained more flexibility.

So has your competition. That means crop growers in Brazil, your biggest competitors in the soybean industry, and growers elsewhere, have the same opportunities.

Are they taking advantage of it?

"Absolutely," Lespinasse asserts. "There is all sorts of foreign participation in the market now, more so than ever before. It has truly become a global marketplace, and the world looks to the board of trade now for price discovery and direction. And I think we're going to see even more of that in years to come."

Have farmers jumped at this opportunity?

Yes. But at about the same level of participation in the futures market as before Project A. The use of the electronic trading option varies widely, depending on if there is any price-impacting news.

"Some nights it's relatively slow," notes the trader. "Other nights, when there is fresh news, it is relatively busy. Some nights it's only a few hundred contracts, sometimes thousands and thousands of contract transactions."

Without the government safety net that previous farm programs provided, farmers need to heed the wake-up call to check out any new mechanisms to help them manage risk, warn farm management specialists and ag economists.

"It's truly a global marketplace now, and one needs to really take advantage of these tools," Lespinasse agrees. "Otherwise, you can lose out, something a farmer really can't afford to do today."