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American Soybean Association (ASA) reports:

China continues to be the No. 1 international destination for U.S. soy - the country consistently buys nearly one out of every four bushels of U.S. production. This year, China has already bought six million tons more soybeans than it had at this point last year.

Similar to in the United States, the driving force behind all that demand is animal agriculture, which uses 97 percent of all U.S. soybean meal as a protein source in feed. China is home to half of the world's pork production and consumption, both of which could continue to increase. Since about three pounds of feed are required to produce one pound of meat, China seems to be a stable market for U.S. soy exports.

However, recent developments point to a need to spread international soy demand more evenly beyond China.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report published in April suggests that China's animal agriculture sector faces several challenges, which could force it to import more meat. Overall, that could be good news for U.S. meat exports, as well as for domestic demand for soybean meal to feed those animals. Some recent reports also indicate that China's soy demand could fall.

Exports are a major driver of U.S. soybean farmers' profitability, and the soy checkoff continues to fund international-marketing efforts to increase soy exports - and farmers' profit potential - even more. The checkoff provides support to its international-marketing partner, the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), to diversify and grow other international markets for U.S. soy.

United Soybean Board Treasurer Jared Hagert says this project continues to show success at building relationships with customers in numerous countries.

"The soy checkoff has been hard at work diversifying demand for U.S. soybeans," says Hagert, a soybean farmer from Emerado, North Dakota. "This not only includes domestic uses but also a focus on export markets that could utilize more U.S. soy."

A few examples of ways USSEC continues to engage international customers include:

At a recent buyers meeting in the European Union (EU), U.S. soybean farmers networked with customers and explained to them how the U.S. crop is reliable, sustainable and high in quality. "We've been working to increase U.S. soy usage in the EU and other potentially large and valuable markets," Hagert says. "This project has helped lead to a tripling of U.S. soybean meal shipments into the EU alone."

A team of Japanese swine farmers recently traveled to the University of Illinois to learn about U.S. soy's ability to consistently deliver the protein, amino acids and energy that swine need. "Japan is a very important market for us, says USB director Nancy Kavazanjian, a soybean farmer from Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. "They are our third-largest market in terms of volume, but they are our No. 1 customer in terms of value. Japan is also our oldest international customer."

Conferences in countries such as South Korea and Taiwan allow U.S. soybean farmers to talk about U.S. soy's quality, build relationships and discuss key issues with major customers.

"This was an opportunity for me to meet my customers," says USB Meal Action Team Chair Laura Foell, a soybean farmer from Schaller, Iowa. "We talked about my farm, how I decided what to plant, what the cost of production is and how we talk to our consumers about biotechnology."

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