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Agrimin eyes new Asian potash markets as China's production undergoes disruption

SNL Image
Work during the diamond drilling program completed in February 2019, which extended the deposit at Agrimin's Lake MacKay
project in Western Australia from 30 meters deep to over 200 meters.
Source: Agrimin Ltd.

Agrimin Ltd. is planning to help create new demand in Asian markets that receive very little sulfate of potash fertilizer but have "massive" potential to be supplied from the new potash province being developed in Western Australia.

The company defined the barriers of the salt lake when increasing the JORC 2012-compliant drainable mineral resource for its Lake MacKay by 470% on Jan. 20, and CEO Mark Savich said the 123.4 million-tonne resource of sulfate of potash, or SOP, was "one of the biggest selling points" to the tier one fertilizer companies with which Agrimin is in discussions.

While the definitive feasibility study due in June will only include the top 3 meters of the current resource, which now extends to over 200 meters in depth, it is enough for a 20-year mine life. Savich said Lake MacKay's points of difference lie not only in being larger but also in being more scalable than others being developed in the state, given the logistics chain the company is putting in place.

SNL Image
Agrimin Ltd. CEO Mark Savich.
Source: Agrimin Ltd.

Chloride-free potash traditionally had deep markets in Europe and North America until China recently became the world's most significant producer and consumer, yet Savich still sees a lot of markets such as South America and Southeast Asia applying very small amounts of it compared to more traditional muriate of potash, or MOP, which contains chloride.

Savich said opportunity lies in countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil, which use tiny amounts of SOP today, perhaps because they are unable to secure long-term reliable supply or due to the high-cost markets in those countries.

Agrimin is in discussions with foreign fertilizer companies to figure out which ones to target, "then hopefully create new demand in some of those markets, while penetrating existing markets."

However, Savich said those new markets would take time as the countries will have to build out the internal infrastructure needed to distribute the SOP to farmers.

Agrimin's investor presentations therefore tend to focus on the fact that China's harvested area for chloride-intolerant, high-value crops such as fruit and vegetables is growing "extremely fast" compared to rice, corn and wheat, which is flat to declining out to 2022, leading to rapid demand growth for the company's product, according to CRU projections.

CRU said in November 2019 that much of the major capacity expansions in all three fertilizer nutrients — phosphate, potash and nitrogen — since the last commodities boom in 2008 have been in China.

However, China's high production costs, tightening environmental reform and increased scrutiny on unprofitable state-owned enterprises could lead to yet another "structural shift" in the global fertilizer industry, while China's extensive investment in domestic fertilizer capacity has "stalled."

"The rising cost pressures could see the industry consolidate and, over the long term, diminish in size," CRU said.

The research firm also reported that outside Iran, whose entire SOP requirements come from China, Chinese exports SOP to a "geographically widespread and fragmented" market; only Chile, Mexico, Myanmar and South Africa had each received more than 15,000 tonnes by the end of September 2019.