Feed Soil to Feed the World

:: Wednesday, October 25, 2017 :: Posted By Fabiano Silvestrin
The world population first surpassed one billion people in 1804. Just over two centuries later, the world has 7.5 billion people, an increase of over 700%!
Population growth isn’t stopping. The United Nations estimates that by 2100, we will have added nearly four billion more people to the planet. For farmers, that means a lot of food to grow.
How do you continually feed more people without continually adding more land and resources? We can’t yet set up farms on other planets, but we can produce more food here on Earth by making the available farmland as healthy and productive as possible.
One common limitation on crop yields is boron deficiency. Boron deficiency disrupts cell development, stunts plant growth, and limits yield. Luckily, boron deficiency is easy to reverse through boron application.

Modern agricultural practices: The good, the bad, the ugly

Modern agricultural technology from self-driving tractors to increased use of mineral fertilizers have enabled us to grow crops more efficiently in developed and developing countries alike.
However, many harmful practices have evolved alongside these agricultural advances. These practices, along with weather patterns and natural soil variation, have taken a toll on our soil.
According to Professor John Crawford of the University of Sydney (interviewed by the World Economic Forum in Time magazine), about 40% of the soil used for agriculture has been labeled degraded or seriously degraded. These labels reflect the amount of nutrient-rich topsoil remaining in agricultural lands. Scientists estimate that without intervention, the world has less than 60 years of topsoil left.
To figure out what we can do to reverse the damage, we must first look at what causes soil degradation in the first place.

Human causes of soil degradation

Healthy plants contain macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium as wells as micronutrients such as boron and zinc. When plants decompose as part of the natural plant life cycle, they replenish the soils with those nutrients.
Too often, however, crop residues left after harvest are burned or removed from fields. In addition, animals may overgraze agricultural land. These practices prevent plant material from decomposing into nutrient-rich organic matter.
Another factor in soil degradation is that agricultural practices have emphasized applying macronutrients without similar attention to micronutrients such as boron. Boron is essential for healthy plant development, and boron-deficient plants have lower yields. Therefore, soils without the proper amounts of micronutrients pose serious limitations to farmers and the food supply.

Other causes of micronutrient deficiencies

In addition to human factors, there is natural variation in soil health due to environmental factors such as availability of organic matter and soil particle size.
Even if a field has organic matter, nutrients like boron are only released from that organic matter once it decomposes. In cool, wet weather and in hot, dry weather, organic matter doesn’t decompose and soils may become boron deficient.
Additionally, boron is water soluble and can leach over time. Sandy soils are especially likely to be boron deficient because the larger particle size allows nutrients like boron to move through the soil until it is past the reach of plant roots.
Erosion also plays a role in nutrient deficiency. Wind and water can erode topsoil, the most nutrient-rich soil layer. When topsoil blows or washes away, fields are more likely to be deficient in boron as well as other nutrients.  
Healthy soils are critical to bringing in high yields of healthy, nutritious crops. Thankfully, there are ways to reverse soil damage.

How to improve soil health

There are numerous ways farmers can improve the health of their topsoil and increase crop quality and yields, including:
  • Leaving plant remnants in the field instead of burning or removing the remnants
  • Reducing the amount of tilling and planting cover crops and wind breaks to reduce topsoil erosion
  • Applying macronutrients and micronutrients to replenish what has been lost over years of degradation


Stabilizing the topsoil and increasing the amount of organic matter within it are important ways to improve soil health. However, those efforts may not be enough to increase the availability of boron. In many cases, farmers may need to supplement with boron to achieve the proper amount of available boron.
For example, it is important to supplement with boron in:
  • Areas where organic matter is low
  • Areas where soil texture, rain, and other environmental factors constantly leach boron from fields
  • Areas of heavy agriculture where boron is removed from the soil due to plant uptake
For farms with boron-deficient soil, U.S. Borax provides a line of agricultural products with 100% water soluble refined boron that is free from impurities and contaminants such as heavy metals.

Good for farms big and small

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that three-quarters of farm land worldwide belongs to family farms.  Additionally, the FAO estimates, family farms produce about 80% of the global food supply.
Thankfully, the yield-boosting benefits of boron application are accessible to large and small farms alike!


Soil health is endangered across the globe, threatening our ability to feed our burgeoning population. However, we can improve our soil with strategies such as increasing the organic matter left to decompose in the field and applying nutrients to restore depleted soil.
When it comes boron, one of the most important micronutrients for healthy plants and high yields, U.S. Borax’s certified organic, contaminant-free products are adaptable to the needs of both small and large farms.
A little goes a long way, as U.S. Borax’s products are 100% water soluble and thus provides consistent and complete boron availability. Whether you want a granular product that blends easily with other fertilizers or a product designed for solutions, U.S. Borax has a product that meets your needs. 

Related Resources


 soil science

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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