Whether it's his interest in the family farm, former role as an Extension risk management analyst or new position as a marketer for a major grain company, Dustin Gaskins has seen the benefits of being a MarketMaxx player.

The grower and Texas A&M analyst-turned Cargill AgHorizons specialist has learned more about the ins and outs of corn and soybean futures and options trading during one year of MarketMaxx play. And he sees the program as the perfect tool for growers and others who want to get their foot in the door of grain trading — without feeling real pain when they stub their toe when facing a would-be margin call.

Gaskins, Spearman, TX, was among the leaders in the MarketMaxx 2006 corn marketing contest leading into the final days of the game from The Corn And Soybean Digest. He was among about 5,000 players and is eager to take part in MarketMaxx 2007, scheduled to begin the first week of January.

In MarketMaxx, each player is allotted a fictitious 100,000 bu. of corn and 50,000 bu. of soybeans to market using futures, options and forward contracts. The game continues through most of the year. Farmer players who sell all of their allotted corn and soybeans at the higher price can be winners of some major prizes, including one year's use of a tractor or combine.

Gaskins' family farm is in West Texas at Knott. It's mainly cotton, grain sorghum and wheat. He's used futures and options for cotton trading, as well as forward contracts for milo. “Some use corn futures to market milo,” he says, “but our production has been too variable for that situation.”

He was introduced to MarketMaxx while serving as a Texas Cooperative Extension farm assistant management specialist in Amarillo.

“I'd been through the Master Marketer program, which is now in Texas, Minnesota and several other states,” he says. “However, I wanted some more experience in futures trading. That's when I was told about the MarketMaxx contest by a colleague. I visited the www.MarketMaxx.net Web site and got signed up.”

He quickly learned how using options to anticipate market moves could work well in a marketing program.

“MarketMaxx allows people to write a marketing plan, then follow it,” says Gaskins, who assumed his position with the AgHorizons program this fall at a Cargill facility in Spearman.

“It's doing the player a favor. It gives producers an opportunity to know how a plan works. For guys not comfortable with being in the market, it gives them a look at what the benefits and consequences are,” he says.

“If the market moves against them, they can face margin calls without it really costing them. Or if you can add a nickel/bu. to the bottom line, the game shows how good marketing can put money in the bank. MarketMaxx gives me and others a good excuse to follow the markets, evaluate trades, then take actions accordingly.”

Signup for MarketMaxx must be done on the www.MarketMaxx.net site. The site features a marketing library and a section to guide you through writing a marketing plan.

There, the nearest three months of corn and soybean futures contracts from the Chicago Board of Trade are always posted. Handy charts help users better understand the movement of a particular contract's price.

The leaders in each of the corn and soybean marketing contests are also listed. And via a password, each player can go to his or her trading account to review activity and make new trades.

In addition, extensive market commentary is provided by Al Kluis, president of Northland Commodities, Minneapolis, MN, and Kevin McNew, president of Cash Grain Bids, Inc., Bozeman, MT. McNew also manages the MarketMaxx site.

Information on prizes offered in the corn and soybean marketing contests is also listed, as well as complete rules and regulations of the game. Plus, a MarketMaxx e-newsletter goes out twice a month to update players and others on the games and provide additional grain marketing news and commentary.

MarketMaxx is open to anyone, but only farmers at least 18 years of age who haven't served as a commodity broker the past five years are eligible to win prizes (go to the Web site for exact rules and regulations).

Gaskins sees MarketMaxx as a good tool for growers who take part in marketing clubs, which are seen across the grain belt. Club members can test their skills against each other and use information from MarketMaxx to help them formulate their actual marketing club futures and options trades, he says.

He also sees it as a good learning experience for college students studying agricultural economics.

No matter how it's used, MarketMaxx can be just the program needed to better acquaint growers and others with the workings of corn and soybean markets.

For more information on getting involved in MarketMaxx, go to www.MarketMaxx.net. Get your account started and be ready to start trading when MarketMaxx 2007 kicks off in January.

You have a lot to gain and nothing to lose, except some valuable lessons in selling your corn and soybeans.