Local production is the answer to bolstering farmers’ fertiliser supply

Matt Shackleton Countryman
Potash lake at Australian Potash's Lake Wells project.
Camera IconPotash lake at Australian Potash's Lake Wells project. Credit: Australian Potash

Farmers in WA and around Australia are no doubt concerned about skyrocketing fertiliser prices due to surging energy costs and export restrictions on suppliers.

As geopolitical instability affecting some of the world’s major potash-producing nations disrupts global supply chains, the case for developing a home-grown potash industry gains ground.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is having an impact on global food supply chains, threatening food security, particularly in countries already seeing the impact of climate change, increasing food prices and disruption to supply chains from COVID-19.

As Russia restricts access to parts of the Black Sea, it is cutting shipping supply routes used to move goods, including potash, out of the region.

The European Union and the US have also imposed sanctions on potash producer Belarus, partly due to a migration crisis on the Poland-Belarus border.

Australian Potash chief executive Matt Shackleton.
Camera IconAustralian Potash chief executive Matt Shackleton. Credit: Australia Potash/Australia Potash

Belarus is the world’s third-largest potash supplier, accounting for about 20 per cent of global supply of Muriate of Potash, however exports have been significantly disrupted by the sanctions.

In addition, Ukraine has indefinitely banned the transit of potash from Russian ally Belarus by rail, cutting off supplies to countries including Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Poland.

It’s estimated about 700,000 tonnes of potash was carried via this supply route in 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison rightly pointed out last week that the best way to minimise the impact of global supply chain disruptions in Australia was to shift our focus to developing our own industries and manufacturing our own goods.

One of the areas Mr Morrison highlighted was agricultural chemicals, including fertilisers.

Sulphate of Potash is a green, premium potassium fertiliser used by farmers in Australia and around the world which benefits chloride-sensitive crops such as root vegetables, fruits and coffee beans.

Without it, the world would struggle to feed itself.

Australia currently does not produce any potash, but a number of players in Western Australia are trying to change that.

WA has some of the best primary resources of SOP in the world.

Add to that plenty of sunshine to enable environmentally friendly solar-salt production, a positive regulatory environment and low sovereign risk, and you have all the ingredients necessary for a successful, and sustainable, new industry.

But in order for the emerging industry to succeed, it needs support from government and investors.

And time.

Unfortunately, potential potash producers don’t have a tap we can just turn on to mitigate the supply chain issues the world is currently facing.

In the case of Australian Potash Limited and our Lake Wells project in the north-eastern Goldfields of WA, we have spent six years in the discovery and development phases, and it will be a while yet until production commences.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen some of the players in our emerging industry stumble. Every new industry has its teething problems, and potash is not immune to this.

What we need to do is learn from the mistakes others have made and ensure we do things differently.

APC made a strategic decision early on not to employ the technique of digging large trenches to produce SOP and have instead chosen to develop a 100 per cent borefield operation.

We are the only potential potash producer to do this.

We believe a borefield operation enables us to have the most control over the amount of brine in our ponds, which is essential to producing SOP.

We believe it’s what is going to make our operation viable so that Australian farmers can have confidence in our quality and supply.

By establishing a successful industry in WA, farmers in Australia will have access to a premium, organic, sustainable product which will enable them to grow better, healthier crops on their land and shield them from the disruptions to supply caused by factors far beyond their control.

A homegrown potash industry should also shield farmers from skyrocketing fertiliser prices due to lower freight and shipping costs, making crops more profitable for farmers, and hopefully, making produce more affordable for consumers.

Matt Shackleton is the CEO of Australian Potash

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