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An Agricultural Borates Primer

:: Monday, January 27, 2020 :: Posted By Fabiano Silvestrin
The majority of researchers and farmers have recognized the importance of boron in agriculture. Boron is necessary for proper plant nutrition. And, boron-deficiency can significantly affect crop yields. This is especially true in Brazil where most soils have low or medium levels of boron.

Types of borates

Although its clear crops need boron, there is still debate as to what sources of boron are best in agriculture. There are basically two classifications of borates:
  1. Those where the original source material has gone through a refinement process. Unsurprisingly, these are known as refined borates. For example, boric acid, sodium octaborate, borax decahydrate, borax pentahydrate, and anhydrous borax.
  2. Those borates which have had no refinement process. These are called mineral or unrefined borates. Examples include hydroboracite, colemanite, and ulexite.

Borate solubility by type

The more soluble a product is, the more boron is available to the plant. The solubility of borates depends on the source material and the interaction of the boron with sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). The more Mg and Ca a borate has the less soluble this mineral will be.
 
Most of the borate fertilizers used in agriculture, come from the following boron ores:

Hydroboracite (CaMgB6O116H2O)
Calcium and magnesium borate which is practically insoluble in water (solubility of 0.8 g/L at 20° C)
Hydroboracite sample
Image from Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com
Colemanite (Ca2B6O115H2O)
Calcium borate which has low water solubility (4.7 g/L at 20° C)
Colemanite sample
Ulexite (NaCaB5O98H2O)
Calcium and sodium borate which has partial solubility in water (10.9 g/L at 20° C)
Ulexite sample
Kernite (Na2B4O74H2O)
Sodium borate, which is water soluble (19.0 g/L at 20° C)
Kernite sampleTincal, also known as borax, (Na2B4O710H2O)
Sodium borate which is water soluble (26.5 g/L at 20° C)
Borax sample
Refined borates such as boric acid (H3BO3) and disodium octaborate tetrahydrate (Na2B8O13.4H2O) are highly soluble in water having solubility of 47.2 g/L and 97.0 g/L at 20° C, respectively. Because of this, they are widely used to produce liquid fertilizers for foliar fertilization and fertigation.

What is borax?

Many people think that there is only one type of borax. But, in addition to several other products, U.S. Borax produces three different forms:
  1. Borax decahydrate (Na2B4O7 • 10H2O): About 11.4% boron
  2. Borax pentahydrate (Na2B4O7 • 5H2O): About 15% boron
  3. Anhydrous borax (Na2B4O7): About 21.3% boron
 
The water solubility of each type of borax will depend upon the degree of hydration. Because borax decahydrate has a greater solubility in water and a lower percentage of boron, it is not widely used in agriculture. Rather it is mainly used in a variety of industrial manufacturing end uses, including as a laundry detergent booster.
 
On the other hand, borax pentahydrate (sold commercially by U.S. Borax as Granubor® and Fertibor®) and anhydrous borax are very efficient sources for use as fertilizers.
 

Borates in the field

When it comes to borated soil fertilization, growers should be concerned about using efficient boron sources capable of releasing 100% of the present boron and making boron available when plants really need the nutrient.
 
It was with this in mind that U.S. Borax created Granubor, which is capable of releasing 100% of boron in order to meet the nutritional uptake of crops. In the graph below we can see that Granubor is able to release boron in order to meet the demand of this nutrient for corn crop.
 


 

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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 500 customers with more than 1,700 delivery locations globally. We supply 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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