Pioneering History, Progress in Agriculture

:: Tuesday, April 4, 2017 :: Posted By Fabiano Silvestrin
In the 1870s, American miners, speculators, and businessmen flocked west in a mining rush; but they weren’t looking for gold. In Nevada and California, discoveries of large borate deposits sparked a “boron rush” and prospectors and entrepreneurs began to explore the region and snap up the rights to mine the newly found borate deposits. 

Why were these hardy pioneers looking for borates? Refined borates had numerous uses, from baking soda to ceramics production to washing soap, and they saw the long-term potential of this valuable resource. That foresight was the foundation of U.S. Borax, a company whose products and research have become essential for supporting growth, profitability, and sustainability in agriculture. 

Today, agriculture professionals from farmers to researchers know that the same pioneering spirit that launched U.S. Borax continues to make the company a leader in innovation across the industry. 

Where do borates come from?

In the 19th century, a highly valuable deposit of sodium borate (also known as borax) was discovered in Death Valley, California, 165 miles from the nearest railroad in Mojave. 

To move the borax out of Death Valley to processing plants for refinement, miners for the Pacific Coast Borax Company used ten 10-ton wagons, drawn by teams of 20 mules. Between 1883 and 1889, the 20-mule teams transported more than 20 million pounds of borax from Death Valley to Mojave. 

In 1925, another huge borate deposit was discovered near Kramer Junction, California. The mining company purchased the claims to the Kramer Deposit and eventually became U.S. Borax. Today, the U.S. Borax mine outside of Boron is the largest open-pit mine in California and the largest borax mine in the world. The products produced here have been refined to remove impurities from the ground and recrystallized into pure forms, giving them superior performance. 

This year, U.S. Borax and its parent company Rio Tinto mark 145 years of continuous business.

Continuous boron research, continuousinnovation 

20 Mule Team® Borax is still a highly recognized brand name. Over the years, the company has continually innovated and participated in an array of scientific research. 

Boron is used for a variety of industrial purposes such as metallurgy, glass work, ceramics, cosmetics, and more. In the 1920s, scientists discovered a new, critical use for borates: Plants need boron to grow properly. However, although boron occurs naturally in soils, boron deficiency is widespread because the element is water soluble and is depleted over time through leaching and plant absorption. 

Boron is essential to developing the proper structure and function of plant cell walls. Without enough boron, plants tend to have bushy, stunted, and twisted growth; often display yellowed leaves; and most important, produce low yields. 

Boron deficiency can be prevented by applying refined borates to fields. U.S. Borax provides a variety of agricultural products, all made from refined sodium borates, as part of its 20 Mule Team brand. The refining process is especially important for borates used in agriculture because it ensures: 
  • Impurities are washed out
  • The level of boron is consistent throughout the product
  • Absorption by plants is most effective
The result? Farmers who use high-quality refined borate products will get the best value for their investment. 

Over the past century, U.S. Borax has been dedicated to continually learning more about boron’s role in agriculture, collaborating with universities and technical institutes around the world. Laboratory data and results from crop studies help U.S. Borax continually improve the products within the 20 Mule Team brand to help farmers achieve optimal yields and profitability. 

Proof through field trials: A recent example

In the 2012 to 2014 growing seasons, U.S. Borax participated in independent corn trials at the University of Missouri comparing the application of U.S. Borax’s granular boron product, Granubor®, to granular ulexite, a raw form of borate. 

The result? The corn treated with Granubor showed the highest levels of boron uptake. 

Pioneering into the 21st century

Today, farmers around the world face the challenges and opportunities of a new century, new technologies, and new markets. And the need for boron supplementation is greater than ever as the agriculture community grapples with extreme weather and climate change, the need to feed more people with fewer resources, and the continuing need for profitability and sustainability in business.

In the midst of all the challenges and change, U.S. Borax is continuing crop research, developing new products and supplementation methods, and is ready to support farmers' success in a dynamic future.


U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 650 customers with more than 1,800 delivery locations globally. We supply around 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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