U.S. soybean growers have sold 179 million tons (6.6 million bushels) of their crop to Japan since the American Soybean Association opened its first overseas office there a half-century ago.

Representatives of American soybean farmers and Japanese customers met in Tokyo Aug. 24 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the office there.

The 1956 event also has historic significance because it was the first overseas commodity office to receive funding for market development activities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In 2005, Japan purchased more than $1 billion of U.S. soybeans and soybean products, which included nearly 510,000 metric tons (18.7 million bushels) of high-value Identity Preserved food grade soybeans.

The 50th anniversary celebration came on the heels of USDA's August forecast of record U.S. ag exports for fiscal years 2006 and 2007, with soybeans, corn, and horticulture products accounting for most of the expansion.

Reduced soybean exports by South America and rising foreign demand, led by China, should increase exports of U.S. soybeans, the forecast said.

Total ag exports are predicted to reach a record $68 billion for fiscal 2006, eclipsing the old record of $62.5 billion set in fiscal 2005. For fiscal 2007, USDA is forecasting that exports will reach a record $72 billion.

“These export numbers clearly illustrate the importance of opening and maintaining markets for U.S. agricultural products,” said Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns. “Growing sales boost farm income and create close to a million jobs.”

United Soybean Board Chairman Curt Raasch said at the anniversary celebration in Tokyo that “U.S. soybean farmers are indebted to our Japanese friends for believing in our industry. We look forward to many more years of strengthening the relationships that have developed over the past 50 years.”

U.S. soybean growers were represented at the event by farmer leaders, ASA staff, and leaders from several state soybean affiliates, American Soybean Association International Marketing, United States Soybean Export Council, and United Soybean Board.

Japanese customers were represented by officers and members of the Japanese Oilseed Processors Association, Japan Oil & Fat Importers & Exporters Association, Japan Federation of Miso Manufacturers Cooperative, and Japan Tofu Association.

USDA estimates that Japan's total imports of soybeans for 2006 will be 4.2 million metric tons, and the U.S. share of imports should remain at the 2005 level of roughly 76 percent.

“Soybeans are an essential part of the Japanese diet, and the maintenance of a stable supply is extremely important for our life as a nation,” said Takeshi Inoue, chairman of the Japan Oil & Fat Importers & Exporters Association. “I congratulate the American Soybean Association on 50 years of success in promoting U.S. soybeans in Japan.”

The U.S. Soybean Export Council operates nine American Soybean Association offices in key marketing areas around the world.