Essential Minerals Quarterly Report

In the ground: Earth’s Essential Elements growing crops and profits

In Australia, the fertiliser market has exhibited robust growth, with revenue expanding at a compound annual growth rate of 3.9% over the past five years, according to market analysis IBISWorld. 

This trend positions the industry to reach an estimated $5.8 billion in revenue this year.

Fertiliser plays a critical role in Australia’s agricultural sector as it provides essential nutrients that enhance soil fertility and increase crop yields. This contribution supports farmers in improving productivity, as well as bolstering the overall economic stability by ensuring a reliable food supply. 

Three primary essential minerals are needed for fertilisers; potash, phosphate, and ammonia. These minerals are considered vital for optimising soil health and sustaining agricultural output. 

Potash: Growth and yield

Potash, or potassium, helps the “blood flow” of a plant, which is crucial for growth and yield. It is primarily sourced from large underground deposits, with muriate of potash (MOP) and sulphate of potash (SOP) being the most common types. 

MOP is the most economical of the potassium fertilisers, and the most commonly used. It is used for  sugarcane, pastures, and many horticultural crops. 

SOP, on the other hand, provides plants with greater resistance to weather and disease, alongside promoting the development and colour of flowers and increased fruit yields. 

Agrimin (ASX:AMN) CEO Debbie Morrow tells this news service that while the MOP industry makes up the majority of potash’s volume, the demand for MOP and SOP is not going anywhere. 

“There is no substitute for potash for crops and as the world’s population and its demand for food grows, so too does the demand for potash,” she says. 

“MOP demand is being met at the moment and we don’t expect significant demand growth in the near future. The SOP market is supply constrained; if there was more SOP available then we believe the market would absorb that production.”

According to YCharts, MOP’s spot price is at US$307 ($455.46) per tonne, as of 31 May 2024. This figure represents a 17.58% decrease from last year’s price of US$372.50 per tonne. 

SOP is priced higher than MOP, as it is usually produced through chemical methods. 

Morrow says SOP prices remain above the long-term average at US$650 per tonne. 

“We expect SOP prices to remain strong against a backdrop of solid demand and a supply side that is struggling to keep up,” she says. 

Several ASX-listed mining companies are actively engaged in potash projects, helping meet the growing demand for the fertiliser. 

Agrimin owns the Mackay Potash Project in Western Australia, which is forecast to be one of the world’s lowest cost producers of SOP. The project is one of the largest undeveloped potash-bearing salt lakes in the world. 

Mackay has a SOP ore reserve of 20 million tonnes and a mineral resource of 123.4 million tonnes, and is projected to have a post-tax real net present value of US$655 million and an internal rate of return of 21%, based upon a total cash cost of US$159 per tonne free on board (FOB) and a flat SOP price of US$500 per tonne. 

Mining giant BHP (ASX:BHP), which is developing the Jansen Potash Project in Saskatchewan in Canada, says around 70 million tonnes of potash is produced yearly, predominantly in Canada. 

The company aims to deliver a potash mine in Saskatchewan, Canada. Jansen’s construction will take place over several years, with first production targeted for late 2026. 

Once operations have ramped up, BHP expects Jansen to have an initial production capacity of 8.5 million tonnes per year, with the potential to produce up to 17 million tonnes per year. 

Canada has 10 active potash mines, all in Saskatchewan, which produced an estimated 24.6 million tonnes in 2022. This was a 1.3 million tonne increase from the previous year. 

According to the Canadian Government, Canada has the world’s largest potash reserves, with 1.1 billion tonnes of potash. 

Phosphate: Essential for life

Phosphate, essential for life and growth, can be converted into phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is a key component in various industries such as food, cosmetics, and animal feed. 

Despite fluctuations in global production, demand remains robust as it is driven by population growth and increasing food requirements. 

Since phosphate production was first recorded in 1847 in England, more than 2 billion tonnes of phosphate rock has been mined globally, as reported by the South Australian Government. 

According to a US Geological Survey on mineral commodities, in 2023 the global production of phosphate was 220,000 tonnes, which is a slight decrease from the previous year of 228,000 tonnes. 

Although the production rates are lower than 2022, we are consuming more fertiliser; in 2023 consumption sat at 45.7 million tonnes, compared to 43.8 million tonnes in 2022.

The US Geological Survey also reports phosphate’s global production is projected to increase to 69.1 million tonnes by 2027, compared to 63.6 million tonnes in 2023. Asia and South America are expected to lead this global production growth.

“The global demand for phosphate is surging owing to the increasing world population resulting in rising food demand,” Grand View Research says. 

Phosphate-focused company OCP says Morocco has 70% of the world’s phosphate reserves. 

China is ranked second behind Morocco, with 3.8 million reserves and 90,000 tonnes of phosphate rock produced. The US is third for production, with 20 million tonnes of phosphate rock produced. 

Despite its necessity, similarly to potash, there are only three ASX-listed mining companies that have phosphate projects. 

Aguia Resources (ASX:AGR) has a phosphate project in Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil. The company holds a resource of 105 million tonnes of phosphate, of which the current project consumes 5 million tonnes. 

Minbos Resources (ASX:MNB) has its Cabinda Phosphate Project in Angola. The company has completed a Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) which shows the project has a mine life of 20 years and a high phosphate grade of 30%. 

Cabinda has an estimated net present value of US$203.2 million and an internal rate of return of 39%. 

The third company, PRL Group (ASX:PRL), owns Christmas Island Phosphates, which has been operational since 1990. The company reports it has exported over 16 million tonnes of rock phosphate, and employs more than half of the island’s population.

Ammonia: Growing market

The third essential mineral, ammonia, is a colourless, highly irritating gas which is the foundation for nitrogen fertiliser. The gas can be directly applied to soil as a plant nutrient or converted into a variety of common nitrogen fertilisers, as reported by Mosaic Crop Nutrition. 

Market research and strategy consulting firm Emergen Research reports that the global mineral fertiliser market size was US$108.2 billion in 2022. 

In Australia alone, between 6 and 7 million tonnes of fertiliser is sold per year. 

Avenira

Ammonia-based fertiliser is the leading product and service segmentation in Australia, accounting for 51% of fertiliser in the country, according to IBISWorld. 

With about 70% of ammonia used in fertiliser and the remainder used in a diverse range of applications such as plastics, explosives, and synthetic fibres, it is considered an indispensable contribution to global agricultural systems. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says the world will need more ammonia, but with fewer emissions in the future. Ammonia production emits 0.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to around 15% to 20% of the total chemical sector emissions and 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as reported by Minbos. 

Minbos also owns the Capanda Green Ammonia Project, which is considered among the cheapest renewable power feedstocks in the world. The company entered into a memorandum of understanding with Angolan power authorities to secure 200 megawatts of zero carbon hydroelectric power. 

As a result of Capanda, Angola’s hydropower potential is among the highest in Africa and is in the top 10 globally for its newly-installed hydro capacity, while also ranked the second highest producer of hydropower in Africa. 

Minbos is currently engaging with multiple parties to supply ammonia on a build-own-operate basis. The company aims to combine the ammonia with its the phosphate from it Cabinda Project to produce a range of nitrogen fertilisers and explosives for the local and regional markets. 

With several projects underway and an ongoing commitment from mining companies, the fertiliser industry is positioned to meet growing agricultural demands while ensuring long-term viability and productivity. 

Write to Aaliyah Rogan at Mining.com.au   

Images: AgriBotix, Agrimin, Aguia & Avenira.
Author Image
Written By Aaliyah Rogan
Relocated from the East Coast in New Zealand to Queensland Australia, Aaliyah is a fervent journalist who has a passion for storytelling. When Aaliyah isn’t writing stories, she is either spending time with friends and family or down at the beach.