Potash deposit on county border could boost local economy

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The re-discovery of a rare, naturally-occurring mineral used in the production of fertilizer has one company positioned to build a new facility and create jobs in Mecosta and Osceola counties.

The deposit of potassium ore — more commonly known as potash — is located beneath 14,500 acres in Mecosta and Osceola counties. The mineral rights are owned by Michigan Potash, LLC, a Denver, Colo.-based company.

There currently are 14 potash mines in North America, almost all of which are located in either southwest states or Saskatchewan, Canada.

“It’s a unique location, which is the grand advantage Michigan has over rest of the world,” said Ted Pagano, general manager of Michigan Potash, LLC. “It’s sitting in the immediate demand center for the product.”

Each time potash is moved, dust and other impurities become mixed in with the mineral. Potash mined in Saskatchewan is transported five times between the time it is mined and it is delivered to the farmer, Pagano added. Transporting potash out of a Michigan-based mine means a purer product is delivered to farmers.

The deposit was originally discovered in 1980 by Kalium, a Canadian company, which has since become Mosaic, the world’s second-largest fertilizer producer. However, Mosaic allowed the mineral rights to lapse on the deposit, which was then claimed by Michigan Potash, LLC.

Despite beginning to slowly decline, potash prices remain high, meaning some farmers have been applying less potash on their fields than is needed to keep an appropriate balance, said Paul Gross, a Michigan State University Extension field crop extension educator.

“If (potash) becomes cheaper and farmers put more (fertilizer) on over time putting normal potash rates (back to normal), it will increase yield,” Gross said.

However, depending on a field’s existing levels of potash, it could take between two and five years to achieve proper soil balance, he added.

While he described the deposit as being as “shovel-ready” as possible, Pagano said the deposit, which he said is valued in the tens of billions of dollars, is still several years away from production.

“It’s a long-term project,” he said. “Realistically, ground-breaking would not take place until next spring or summer ... (But) it’s about three and a half years to production in very earliest case.”

Michigan Potash’s facility would be constructed so it could expand in coming years without impacting existing yield. While Pagano did not place a number on the amount of potash the new plant would produce or which county it would be built in, he noted that one million tons out of Michigan is less than 20 percent market share within 500 miles.

On the low end, the plant would employ 110 new full-time workers within the facility, and would create additional jobs through contract or associated logistics labor, Pagano added.

“It would be a reasonably impactful infrastructure project (when you include) the number of people who it touches outside the plant,” he said.