I'm a senior trader with 8 years of experience in the ag markets. I currently trade physicals only but have traded futures and options to a small extent in the past as part of my hedge book. I have experience in grains and a wide variety of other ag byproduct commodities. Feel free to ask me anything.
Advice for breaking into commodities
Do whatever it takes to get to know people in the industry. This type of trading is very relationship driven which ends up making the hiring process more relationship driven. When looking at internships, don't just focus on ones with "trading" in the title--if you can find something at a trading company, no matter what the role, pursue it as it will give you the opportunity to be around traders.
What kind of data sets you monitor, on a macro level for agricultural commodities trading?
US and worldwide weather for rainfall and temperature, drought monitors, WASDE reports, import and export numbers...couple of others depending on what we're doing, but we get our best information from our procurement and agronomy people who do their own touring and crop scouting. We're more concerned about what's happening on a micro level for our suppliers and customers. Weather is a tricky thing in grains--you can have one guy with amazing yields because the temperature was right and the rains came when they needed to, and thirty miles up the road where the rains didn't hit, you have below average yields. You won't know that if you're just looking at macro data. The futures market pays more attention to it, but cash markets are more localized.
What are the hours like? Career progression and compensation?
Depends on who you work for and in what role. There's some seasonality in certain roles. For the most part, it's an 8 to 5 job if you're starting out in merchandising/procurement. Once you get into a true trading role though, you work the hours you need to work. Sometimes that's 70 to 80 hours per week, sometimes that means you take a Friday off and go play golf. You're responsible for your book of business, and if it's performing well, you get some leeway. The moment it stops performing well, you need to pick up the pace and fix it. Your comp is ultimately driven by what's on your P&L when your bonus is calculated, so you do what you have to do to drive your comp.
Compensation at the 10 year mark varies. If you're an average/middle of the road guy at that point in your career, it means you probably never earned your own P&L and are still doing procurement or merchandising work--high 5 figures plus bonus, or more likely you're out of the business. If you're an actual middle of the road trader with your own P&L, you'll be low six figures in total comp most years. High performers do much better than this. I once had a boss tell me when I was brand-new that the company's goal was to move new traders into the highest tax bracket possible as soon as possible--if you're not on that type of track as a trader, you probably won't have a long career.