Potassium, nitrogen and phosphate are the three primary nutrients essential for plant growth. A proper balance of these nutrients improves plant health and increases crop yields. Currently, no cost effective substitutes exist for these three nutrients. Other nutrient sources exist, however their relatively low nutrient content and high cost of transportation reduce their viability.
Potash is generated from evaporated marine deposits and can be mined through conventional underground, surface mining or solution mining. Domestically, fertilizer applications account for approximately 85% of potash consumption, while the chemical industry consumes the remaining 15%. Internationally, the fertilizer industry accounts for approximately 93% of potash consumption.
However, due to the global economic downturn, 2009 global potash production decreased to less than 30 million tonnes. In 2010, global potash production recovered and approached 55 million tonnes, of which the U.S. produced less than 1 million tonnes. The continued growth in world population and income drives the demand for agricultural products. As a key ingredient in fertilizer, potash is linked to these macro-economic indicators. This is most evident in the emerging and developing economies of China, India and Brazil. China is the largest consumer of potash and the US is second largest consumer.
High-quality, economically mineable deposits are geographically concentrated and, as a result, potash is produced in only 12 countries. Canada, Russia and Belarus together account for just over two-thirds of global capacity and, according to the United States Geological Service, almost 90% of estimated reserves. The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has almost half of world reserves and 35 percent of global capacity.