ST. LOUIS -- U.S. soybean farmers have once again outdone themselves in the international marketplace by capping off 2006 with combined soybean and soybean meal exports reaching 1.2 billion bushels.

Thanks in part to soybean checkoff marketing efforts, more than 937 million bushels of soybeans and over 282 million bushels worth of soybean meal were exported this year.

China continues to be the No. 1 market for U.S. soybeans, buying just over 356 million bushels in the 2005/2006 marketing year. Mexico came in as the top export market for both soybean meal and soybean oil.

"Mexico's livestock industry is flourishing, which results in more consumption of soybean meal in feed rations," says Terry Ecker, USB International Marketing chair and soybean farmer from Elmo, Mo. "Increased use of U.S. soy in Mexico is a direct result of international marketing efforts put in place by the soybean checkoff."

Another reason for the increase in exports to the Latin America region is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which brought the U.S. back to nearly 100 percent market share in Mexico. Also, due to Mexico's proximity, increased freight rates are not having as large of a price impact as they are in other international markets.

"The soybean checkoff-funded United States Soybean Export Council is an 'engine' that U.S. soybean farmers are using to expand new marketing opportunities abroad," says Mark Pietz, USB Competitiveness chair and soybean farmer from Lakefield, Minn., who also serves as vice-chair of USSEC. "USSEC is on the ground overseas working to increase the demand for U.S. soy through educational efforts to buyers and consumers."

The future demand for soy consumption abroad looks bright with new opportunities in aquaculture, foods and other industrial products. Containerized shipping is another exporting opportunity for soybeans, offering benefits to importers through less handling during shipping. This form of shipping also enables importers to order smaller, customized amounts of soybeans rather than importing via large freight ships.