It's been a difficult year for investors, with the S&P 500 down nearly 20% on the year and many stocks in that index trading down much further. But there are also a select group of stocks in that index that are trading up in 2022 and, therefore, are massively ahead of the market. Moreover, in that select group of positive 2022 stocks are some with even more room to run.

Three of these select stocks are in the agricultural sector: Machinery company Deere (DE 1.03%), seed and crop protection company Corteva (CTVA 1.59%), and insecticide and herbicide producer FMC (FMC 1.25%). Deere is up nearly 13% year to date, Corteva is trading up a whopping 35% year to date and FMC is up 6.3%. Let's find out more about these three stocks and why they are attractive to investors right now. 

1. Deere

This agricultural machinery company's stock is often seen as a cyclical play on the fortunes of the farming industry. The idea is that high crop prices usually result in more income for farmers and a greater willingness to invest in upgrading machinery. That argument still stands, but over the years, Deere has added another growth arrow to its quiver.

Simply put, its leadership in investment in smart farming technologies, or "precision ag," has revolutionized the farming industry. Whether it's automated guidance for machinery, precision planting, fertilizer spraying, and harvesting, or even the use of advanced analytics to improve crop yields and maximize profitability, Deere has a solution to help. 

As such, Deere's technological solutions are likely to engender customer loyalty leading to more revenue growth, a margin expansion opportunity, and increased service revenue. All told, Deere is still a cyclical play on the farming industry, but it's also demonstrated an ongoing ability to outperform its industry, and that makes it an attractive stock for long-term investors

2. FMC 

Speaking of agricultural products, insecticide (control of insects that damage crops) and herbicide (control of unwanted plants in a field) company FMC is having a strong year. It's no secret that food prices have soared this year in line with inflationary trends exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

FMC's key markets are soybeans (20% of 2021 revenue) and fruit and vegetables (19%), but rice, sugar, corn, and cereals also contribute around 9% of revenue apiece. The good news is that when the price of these commodities rises, farmers tend to plant more, and they invest more in yield-enhancing crop protection solutions.

That's where FMC comes in. At the midpoint of its full-year guidance, management expects 11% revenue growth in 2022, with the company being able to pass through price increases to its customers.

The latter point is important because, alongside much of the chemical sector, FMC suffered cost increases this year. The cost of sales and services is up 17.7% in the first six months. However, if food prices remain high while a slowdown across the rest of the economy leads to a moderation in raw material prices, then FMC could see a margin expansion opportunity. 

3. Corteva 

Agriscience company Corteva is also a beneficiary of soaring food prices, but the seed and crop protection company has its own internal growth prospects. Putting its end markets aside for a moment, Corteva can grow earnings in two related ways. First, it can increase its profit margin by cutting costs. It's an opportunity that many investors, including Starboard Value, feel management hasn't fully taken advantage of in the past.

As a reminder, Corteva was created as a spinoff from the DowDuPont merger in 2017 and married Dow's seed-heavy business with DuPont's crop protection focus. One key benefit of merging the businesses was the ability to generate cost synergies due to operating in overlapping markets and sharing technology.

Second, Corteva has a significant opportunity to cut royalty costs by selling relatively more solutions under its own technology, obviating royalty payments to other companies. 

Indeed, the company's recent investor day presentation saw management outline aggressive plans to do both. For example, management believes it can expand its earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) margin from 17.4% in 2022 to 21% to 23% in 2025, largely as a consequence of cutting costs and royalty payments. All told, Corteva is one of the most exciting stocks in the agriscience sector