Mosaic Facility Tour: Expanded Opportunities

Mosaic Facility Tour Belle Plaine Conveyor

While driving west from Regina, Sas­katchewan, along Pro­vincial Route 1 for 30 minutes or so, motorists will notice an impressive-looking facility looming off in the distance. This is the Mosaic Co.‘s Belle Plaine potash processing facility, which sits on approximately 200 acres of land surrounded by some of the world’s largest potash reserves. When it was first built in 1962, the facility represented the largest solution mining operation in the world, producing more than 800,000 short tons of potash per year.

But today’s Belle Plaine operation is much bigger than it was 48 years ago. Pulling into the facility, visitors will notice hundreds of steel girders being mounted, dozens of front-end loaders moving earth and more than 500 construction workers scurrying across the site. The plant is in the midst of a major expansion of its operations — an effort that sometimes confuses even seasoned Mosaic employees.

“This parking lot wasn’t here the last time I visited,” says Sarah Fedorchuk, internal communications specialist, looking for a visitors parking place. “Things here in Belle Plaine are moving pretty fast.”

In reality, the speed of Belle Plaine’s expansion is something of an optical illusion. According to Sam Farris, Belle Plaine expansion manager, potash mining developments at Mosaic tend to be planned out five to six years in advance as a general practice. “Right now, the Belle Plaine expansion is expected to involve three separate stages,” says Farris. “We received the first stage approval in October 2007.”

A Different World

Of course, the world of potash was in a much different place three years ago then it is today. At that time, the agricultural and global economies were booming. Grain prices were at record highs, thanks in part to the growth of corn-based ethanol, and growers were spending plenty of money on crop nutrients such as potash to keep their yields (and profits) high.

But as any agricultural follower knows, these good times all came to a screeching halt during late 2008. Grain prices fell and financially-stung growers virtually halted crop nutrient application work for the remainder of the year.

In 2009, says Norm Beug, senior vice president, potash operations for Mosaic, conditions weren’t much better for crop nutrient suppliers. “There was a major pull-back in crop nutrient use last year,” says Beug. “If I had to characterize how things are for crop nutrients in 2010, I would say we are in recovery, but not fully recovered just yet.” For example, as of March 2010, U.S. potash inventories were reportedly 21% below their five-year average.

Despite this fact — and persistent fears that the general economy could experience a double-digit recession by year’s end — Beug is confident that the future for crop nutrients is bright. “Food demand is still on an upward trend line,” he says. “The world’s population continues to grow, adding some 75 million people per year, and food consumption did not drop off — even during the height of the recession. So from our perspective, the fundamentals of this business are still the same as they were.”

As proof of this view, Beug says all an observer needs to do is look what’s currently happening with potash demand. “Grain prices are going up and this is typically the signal that growers need to make important input decisions,” he says. “Also, China hasn’t upped its potash purchases just yet, but I think that’s going to happen. By 2011, our industry should be back to its normal growth trend line.”

Expansion Plans

To service this expected demand, Mo­saic is in the process of adding capacity to its Belle Plaine operation. As Peter Jackson, general manager, operations at the facility, explains, potash solution mining is a production-intensive process. “In solution mining, you drill bore holes down approximately one mile and pump hot water into the hole to form a cavity,” says Jackson. “This creates a brine which is pumped out of the cavity through a second bore hole and processed in one of two ways to remove the potash from other materials.”

In the first method of extraction, the brine is sent through an evaporation and crystallization process to create the potash crystals from the mined solution. These then leave a crystallizer and are de-watered. They then go to a dryer and compactor before being sent for storage in a warehouse. In the second method, the brine is pumped into a cooling pond just outside the plant. Here, the materials are crystallized naturally and the potash crystals are recovered using a dredge.

For its first stage expansion, the Belle Plaine operation has added a second drilling rig to make bore holes and is constructing an expanded water injection system to produce the heated water at 1,000 psi the plant uses to inject into the mining cavities. There are also four new compactors and a conveyor system for product transportation being built.

“When we are done with this first stage of expansion, the Belle Plaine plant will have significantly more potash production capacity then it currently does,” says Farris. “We will be going from producing 2.55 million short tons today to 3.5 million short tons by 2017.”

The White Stuff

A key characteristic of Belle Plaine’s potash is its color. Unlike traditional potash which is red because of iron impurities, the plant’s production process completely separates the potash crystals from the iron present in the ore body. This results in potash that is white and contains 98% potassium chloride (compared with 95% for red potash).

In 2010, Mosaic began branding this white potash under the tradename Pegasus K62. “Because of its purity level, Pegasus K62 gives users an estimated two more units of potassium per ton than other potash types,” says Beug. “This represents a win-win for our customers because it allows them to do more with less.”

For Belle Plaine’s second stage of expansion, the plant hopes to add to the crystallization process of its operations. “This would help grow our production capacity substantially,” says Farris. “We would be moving from producing 3.5 million short tons of potash to approximately 5 million short tons by 2020.”

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More

Top 100 Articles

CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT, Verdesian Ink Distribution Agreement
December 9, 2014
The agreement grants BRANDT the exclusive right to sell and market Verdesian’s patented Steric chemistry in the Turf and Ornamental and eastern U.S. ag markets under the BRANDT Reaction product line name. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Colors Of Custom Application
December 5, 2014
Although many color spray rigs are in the yards of the nation’s top ag retailers, the majority of them still come in only a few shades. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Invests In Meridian Agriculture Distribution
December 4, 2014
Meridian will provide retailers with supplier-branded products and numerous opportunities to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: Entering A New Seed Era
December 4, 2014
The seed category has been re-vitalized during the past few years, and more good news (and varieties) are headed the industry’s way in 2015. Read More
CropLife 100CropLife 100: The Depressed State Of Fertilizer
December 3, 2014
Following downright giddy growth earlier this decade, fertilizer sales have fallen back down to earth the past two years. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechKaren Arthur Joins AgriThority As Seed Treatment Produc…
December 19, 2014
Prior to joining AgriThority, Arthur directed research and development programs, overseeing laboratory and field research, to build the Valent U.S.A. seed treatment portfolio. Read More
EquipmentJohn Deere To Sell Crop Insurance Business
December 19, 2014
Deere & Co. has reached a definitive agreement to sell its crop insurance business, subject to regulatory approval, to Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. of Iowa. Read More
Crop InputsNufarm Fills Regulatory VP Position
December 18, 2014
Nufarm announced today that Rob Schwehr has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Innovation & Regulatory Affairs for Nufarm Americas. Read More
Seed/BiotechReport: China Approves Viptera Corn, U.S. Officials Awa…
December 17, 2014
Chinese authorities have informed some agriculture industry officials the government has approved U.S. imports of a type of genetically modified corn developed by Syngenta. Read More
FertilizerMonty’s Plant Food Brings In New Sales Rep
December 16, 2014
Monty's Plant Food Company has hired Warren Kearns as its newest Sales Representative for the South Carolina area. Read More
EquipmentHagie Wins 2014 CropLife IRON Product Of The Year Award
December 15, 2014
The self-propelled sprayer maker has a hit on its hands with the new STS Series model. Read More
Syngenta
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Sees China Approving Contentious GMO Corn Soon
December 15, 2014
Syngenta will make an announcement when it receives official documentation from China that Agrisure Viptera corn, known as MIR 162, has been cleared for import. Read More
Crop InputsVerdesian Life Sciences Names Vice President Of Communi…
December 15, 2014
Amy Bugg will oversee the execution of all promotional strategies for the corporate brand and the complete product portfolio. Read More
StewardshipFarmers, Retailers Attend 4R Certification 4U Workshop
December 15, 2014
More than 160 farmers and ag retailer attended the “4R Certification 4U” workshop December 12 to learn more about the 4Rs of nutrient stewardship, water quality research in the area and cost-sharing opportunities. Read More
Matt Hopkins10 Best New Agriculture Apps For 2015
December 15, 2014
These new agriculture apps are certain to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2015 and beyond. Read More
ManagementARA Learnings, Retail Buying Intentions: Welcome To Cro…
December 12, 2014
This informal video program puts news and events effecting retailers into context, and features Editors Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Herbicide-Tolerant Technology Closer To Commer…
December 12, 2014
The final EIS moves Monsanto one step closer to the introduction of Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton and Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybeans, paving the way to provide access to dicamba-tolerant soybeans and cotton. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Issues Final Environmental Impact Statement On Her…
December 12, 2014
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is issuing a final environmental impact statement on varieties of cotton and soybeans that have been genetically engineered for resistance to several herbicides, including the one known as dicamba. Read More
CropLife 100CHS: Driving Momentum To Help Farmer-Owners Grow
December 11, 2014
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading farmer-owned cooperative and a global energy, grains and foods company, must capture new opportunities to Read More
LegislationARA Applauds CFATS Passage Prior To Holiday Adjournment
December 11, 2014
The streamlined bill provides a four-year authorization of the CFATS program and guidance to DHS on key issues of chemical facility security Read More
Seed/BiotechBayer CropScience’s ILeVO Approved By EPA
December 11, 2014
EPA has approved ILeVO, the only seed treatment that protects the root system against infections caused by the Sudden Death Syndrome fungus and has activity against dangerous nematodes. Read More
Biologicals in Emerging Markets Map.
Crop InputsBiocontrols Could Quadruple By 2025; Will Regulators Pl…
December 11, 2014
The European experience with GMOs offers caution — and a promise — for biologicals. Read More
Crop InputsBASF Donates $75,000 To Feeding America
December 10, 2014
The donation will support Feeding America’s National Produce Program, an initiative that helps with planning, transportation and logistics to ensure fresh produce deliveries to the 200 member food banks around the country. Read More