More than a dozen Chinese soybean buyers agreed to purchase $5.3 billion worth of U.S. soybeans last week in Des Moines.

The 484-million-bushel order comes at a perfect time as Iowa farmers begin to harvest what's expected to be a record crop, according to Grant Kimberley, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) market development director.

Government estimates peg Iowa soybean production at 526 million bushel, up 2 percent from the August forecast. U.S. soybean production is forecast at 3.94 billion bushels, a near record.

Shortly after signing purchase agreements at a ceremony in the Ruan Center, more than a dozen feed and grain company representatives and government officials got a first-hand look at the crop and harvesting equipment during a tour of the Kimberley family farm near Maxwell. The family farm hosted China's President Xi Jinping when he visited Iowa in 2012 as vice president.

"Business in Asia is driven by relationships," Kimberley said. "The ISA has diligently worked to foster partnerships, which serve as a foundation for a long-lasting cooperation between our two countries. With the large crop, it's important to maximize our export opportunities. Building on these partnerships help us continue to be a supplier of choice."

In the most recent marketing year, records show U.S. soy exports accounted for 62 percent of U.S. soy production. China imports approximately 25 percent of all U.S. soy produced.

The country was the largest importer of soybeans in the world. It's the No. 1 buyer of whole U.S. soybeans in the 2013/14 marketing year and the second-biggest buyer of U.S. soybean oil.

"Any time an agreement like this is made, it is great for U.S. soybean farmers," said Laura Foell, U.S. Soybean Export Council chair who farms near Schaller. "Our international customers demand a product that is sustainable and high quality, and that's what U.S. soybean farmers continue to deliver."

In the most recent marketing year, U.S. soybean farmers exported 2 billion bushels of soy to international customers. The value of these exports set a record of more than $30 billion.

Records show the U.S. shipped $24 billion worth of agricultural products to China last year. Soy accounted for $14 billion of that total.

ISA President Wayne Fredericks, who attended the signing ceremony with other ISA leaders and state officials, has participated in several ISA Chinese trade missions. He'll be traveling to the world's most populous country again next year and says the latest purchase is sign of those efforts.

"We look forward to continuing to build relationships," said Fredericks, who farms near Osage. "We are working hard to help China meet its needs in food security, safety and sustainability while showing them how biotechnology fits into that strategy. It's about building a partnership and working together to meet the needs and goals of both of our countries."

U.S. soybean farmers have invested millions in checkoff dollars in research and education to help China modernize livestock and aquaculture production systems, which has fostered increased demand for soybeans in the nation.

To learn more about ISA, go to www.iasoybeans.com.