What is Potash?
The term ‘potash’ refers to a group of water-soluble potassium salts that are mined for use primarily in fertiliser production. Potassium is one of three key fertiliser ‘macro-nutrients’ essential for healthy soil and plant growth. It is generally used in combination with the other two macro-nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, to produce a range of fertilisers, the type used being dependent on the soil to which it will be applied. Such fertilisers must be used annually, since nutrients are depleted from the soil with the harvesting of crops. Thus, demand for these products is ongoing.
Potassium is essential to the workings of every living plant cell. It not only plays an important role in plants’ water utilisation but also helps regulate the rate of photosynthesis. In addition, potassium promotes the growth of strong stalks, protects plants from extreme temperatures and enhances their ability to cope with stress; further, it extends the shelf life of agricultural products. Importantly, there is no substitute for potash.
World potash consumption by crop can be seen in the chart at left, with wheat, fruit, vegetables, rice and maize accounting for the majority. Although potash ore reserves have been identified in 21 countries worldwide, in only 12 is the economic extraction of potash currently practised (principally in Russia and Canada).
Current population growth – and the concomitant global demand for food – is placing immense pressure on fertiliser supplies for agriculture. As noted earlier, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the three major plant nutrients delivered in fertilisers, and there are no substitutes for these elements. Hence, potash is a key element in the production of commercial fertilisers.