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Z/H 6½ carry, Z/K 10¾ carry, Z/N 11¾ carry… Say What?

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Learning the lingo of grain marketing will help you understand the terms of the cash grain sales contracts you sign.

The Chicago Board of Trade started trading in 1848. All the futures exchanges trade contracts named for various months. Corn, wheat and oat futures contracts trade five months; soybeans trade seven months, but some commodities have contracts for every calendar month. Crude oil is one of them.

Up until 120 years ago, blackboards were used to record the last price for the many different futures contracts. To save space on the chalkboard, and then mechanical quote machines used until the 1990s, a letter was used to designate each calendar month.

Grain merchandisers generally use the letters instead of the months’ names, especially in their written communications. Farmers need to learn these letters for each month like the words used in their native language every day. As a proficient grain marketer, one must know and be able to comfortably use the vocabulary of grain marketing.

Learn the letters for the months drop-dead cold. Maybe, more importantly, these letters will enable you to understand the terms of the cash grain sale contracts you sign.

Note there are letters for the second year out, but you do not need to know them; just know they exist and know where to find the list of those second year out futures contract months.

Look at the list below. Since this is November 2021, the letter “F” is used for every commodity’s January 2021 futures contracts. The letter “D,” is used for every commodity’s January 2022 futures contracts until January 2021 quits trading; then the January 2022 futures contracts will be designated by the letter “F” and January 2023 will be “D”.

Learn all the letter designations for the nearby twelve months; that would be the first column of letters below.

January =            F                          D

February =          G                          E

March =              H                           I

April =                 J                           L

May =                 K                           O

June =                M                          P

July =                  N                          T

August =             Q                          R

September =       U                          B

October =            V                          C

November =        X                          W

December =        Z                           Y

I have never needed to know the letters for the second year out. However, you and I need to know there are letters for the second year out and where to find them if needed.

Now (November 2021), March 2022 bean contract is the nearby March contract; its designation is “H”. When a person refers to any futures month without a year or letter, it is understood that it is the nearby month by that name within the next 12 months. However, “red” refers to the second year out contract month. For example, March 2022 is simply “March” or “H”. March 2023 contract month is “red March” until March 2022 quits trading. “November” refers to the nearest November contract, namely November 2022. “Red November” is the November 2023 contract. “Red January” is the January 2023 contract, but when January 2022 quits trading, January 2023 will no longer be red; it becomes “January” or “F” and January of 2024 becomes “red January”.

Got It? By the way, C = corn; S = soybeans, and W = wheat.

When your signature is required on a basis contract next week that states: “CZ to CH @+6”, you will know what you are signing.

Wright is an Ohio-based grain marketing consultant. Contact him at (937) 605-1061 or [email protected]. Read more insights at

No one associated with Wright on the Market is a cash grain broker nor a futures market broker. All information presented is researched and believed to be true and correct, but nothing is 100% in this business.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress. 


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