Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Potash refers to compounds containing the element potassium such as potassium chloride, potassium sulfate, potassium-magnesium sulfate, potassium nitrate, and mixed sodiumpotassium nitrate. The word "potash" comes from an early settler term, "pot-ashes," referring to potassium salts obtained by burning wood in pots. It is called potassium oxide in the ceramics industry.

Potassium is the seventh most abundant element of the earth's crust and is found in all plants and animals and in soils, rocks, minerals, oceans, rivers, and lakes. Potassium is essential for plant and animal growth; consequently, 95 percent of potash production is used as fertilizer or plant food. The remaining 5 percent of potash production is consumed by the chemical industry for a variety of products such as glass, ceramics, soaps and detergents, explosives, dyes, medicines, and alkaline batteries.

Potash is usually mined from underground bedded salt deposits. Shafts are sunk, and the ore is dug out or pumped to the surface through solution mining. Canada leads the world in both production and reserves. The bulk of Canada's potash production (about 9.3 million tons in 1997) and reserves are located in the Great Plains. The potash industry is focused in Saskatchewan, because there the ore deposits are thick and relatively close to the earth's surface; similar but more expensive to mine ore deposits occur in Alberta, Manitoba, North Dakota, and Montana. Currently, about ten mines produce potash in Saskatchewan. Most of the output is exported: about 55 percent to the United States and about 40 percent overseas via Vancouver. The United States is a much smaller potash producer (about 1.6 million tons in 1997), but again, the Great Plains is the leading region. About 80 percent of U.S. production comes from the Carlsbad area of New Mexico.

Grant D. Jackson Montana State University

The 2000–2005 Outlook for Potash, Soda, and Boratic Minerals in North America and the Caribbean. CD-ROM, Icon Group International, 2001.

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