We are quite lucky that we live in a country with varying climates that means we can grow almost anything. From wheat to tropical fruit to avocados, we can grow it all. But with a growing population domestically and globally, and a worldwide push for more plant-based sources of food, it is estimated that we need to double our food production by 2050 to feed everyone. One of the ways to achieve this is by growing better quality food.
Fertilisers are compounds of nutrients given to plants in order to promote growth. The three primary macronutrients essential for plant growth are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K).
Potassium or Potash as it’s more commonly known, is vital for healthy plants and helps with the development of strong roots, stalks and stems. It also helps to keep plants hydrated. This means that potassium increases the resilience of a plant to weather stressors such as variable temperatures, drought and high winds – things Australian farmers are all too familiar with.
Potassium also boosts resistance to diseases and pests and is often called the quality nutrient because it enhances the appearance, taste, nutritional value and shelf life of the harvested crop.
There are two main types of Potash we use for growing plants, Potassium chloride or MOP, and Potassium Sulphate or SOP.
MOP, is the most abundant form of potash and is the most commonly utilised potassium fertiliser. It is particularly effective when used in the commercial cultivation of the carbohydrate crops including wheat, oats, and barley. MOP is composed of potassium and chloride in the form of a salt which is soluble in water. Chloride can however be harmful to some sensitive crops and detrimental in acidic soils. But because MOP is abundant, and cheaper to produce, it’s the form of potash that is most commonly used around the world, and the kind that Australian farmers have been using. MOP has a total global market size of approximately 55-60 million tonnes per annum.
SOP, is the second major form of potash. It is particularly effective for growing fruits, vegetables, berries, potatoes, beans, cocoa, and tree nuts. SOP contains less than 1% chloride, but importantly contains sulphur which is a secondary macronutrient utilised by the plant for growth. Sulphur deficient soils are a growing problem within the agriculture sector. Because of this, SOP attracts a price premium over MOP of between 40% to 100%. SOP only has a total global market size of approximately 6 million tonnes per year.
SOP is better than MOP because it does not contain chloride, which has a toxic impact on many food plants, especially fruits and vegetables. When MOP is used, the chloride in soils build up which impact plant yields. Chloride-free fertiliser enhances plant health, and SOP has a lower salinity index than MOP. The higher salinity of MOP can cause plants to have difficulty absorbing water and nutrients from the soil reducing the quality and yield of the crop. This is important as we look to increase food production without expanding the amount of land.
Australian Sulphate of Potash company Kalium Lakes have found shallow brine deposits in the Pilbara in Western Australia. And it’s not just helping Aussie farmers to grow better greens, the project itself is green too.
The brine is pumped up into large salt lakes for evaporation, where they let the sun work its magic naturally to evaporate the water, leaving the Potash behind. They’re also using existing infrastructure for the project, like transportation routes so they’re managing to keep their carbon footprint down all the while supplying our farmers with a high-quality local product.
High quality local product to High quality Produce
Over the years Raeburn Orchard’s Carole and Paul have endeavoured to keep up with the latest varieties of table fruit available, ensuring they able to keep up with produce trends and public demands. This includes a shift to more plant-based diets. They pride themselves in growing the freshest and best-tasting fruit, picking crops when it is at its peak for size, colour, taste and sweetness.
Like many farming families, Carole and Paul’s family have been growing produce in the Perth hills for over seventy years. They know that to produce bumper crops like our much cherished avos, they need to take very good care of the land. This means using the best quality fertilizers.
Very soon, a supply of Australian Potash produced on their doorstep will be helping them and others to achieve this. We often think of our two biggest industries as in competition, but this is just one of the many ways we work together to ensure Australia remains the lucky country.