&l;p&g;Rising prices for potash, an important fertilizer which boosts crop yields, has sparked a rush in the mining industry as big and small companies look for ways to cash in.
BHP, the world&s;s biggest miner, has the most ambitious plan as it mulls the best time to start production at its $10 billion Jansen project in Canada.
But even in Britain, a country which closed most of its mines decades ago, is working towards starting a $3 billion potash mine in North Yorkshire.
&l;img class=&q;dam-image bloomberg size-large wp-image-41906403&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/41906403/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;646&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Underground potash mining in Russia. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg
Other potash project developers in locations as far apart as Australia and Eritrea, on the horn of Africa, are hoping to catch strong demand from farmers who use the fertilizer which helps crops retain water while also improving their taste and overall quality.
What the miners see is a mineral enjoying a strong price revival triggered by rising demand and limited increase in supply which comes mainly from Canada, Russia, Belarus and China.
&l;strong&g;Price Up By 25%&l;/strong&g;
Over the past 12-months the price of potash has risen by close to 25%, reaching $350 a ton.
The miners expect the price to continue rising, perhaps getting back to the $525/t reached in 2010 when BHP made its first attempt to enter the potash business with a controversial $39 billion takeover offer for Canada&s;s potash champion, the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan, which has since merged with Agrium to form a new business called Nutrien.
After BHP&s;s bid for Potash Corporation was rejected by the Canadian Government the Australia-based miner resorted to a back-up plan, which is the development of a new mine.
Work on the Jansen mine started just as the potash price started to fall, forcing BHP to go-slow on its development which includes digging multiple shafts to reach the deeply buried potash.
With potash prices improving BHP is now moving to the point of deciding when would be best to start production with the company&s;s chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, sending mixed signals about the company&s;s plans for potash which was once seen as forming a major new business unit based on the estimated 100-years of reserves at Jansen.
&l;img class=&q;dam-image bloomberg size-large wp-image-35731842&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/35731842/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;640&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; BHP chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg
BHP said in its half-year report released last month that the outlook for potash prices was positive. &q;We expect annual demand growth of between 2%-and-3% over the next decade, resulting in demand exceeding available supply from existing and forthcoming capacity by the mid-to-late 2020s.&q;
But, in interviews after that comment on the potash market McKenzie said there was no fixed timeline for a production start at Jansen which has been designed to deliver four million tons of potash in its early years, rising to 12 million tons a year, making it one of the biggest potash mines in the world.
&l;strong&g;Even Britain&a;nbsp;Wants To Be A Big Potash Producer&l;/strong&g;
BHP&s;s indecision is making life tough for smaller potential entrants in the potash business because the size of Jansen means it could easily satisfy most expected new demand, leaving limited room for other potential producers such as the Woodsmith project of Sirius Minerals in Britain which is seeking financial support to finalize construction.
In Australia, the relatively small Beyondie project of Kalium Lakes is moving quickly towards production after securing financial backing from an Australian Government development agency and debt funding from a German bank, KfW Ipex-Bank.
In Eritrea, the Australia-based company, Danakali, has attracted international financial backing for its Colluli project.
Other potential potash producers in what is becoming a crowded sector include Australian stock-exchange listed Salt Lake Potash which has outlined a substantial resource at Lake Way in central Western Australia and Australian Potash which proposes to develop a mine at Lake Wells.