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Potash—A vital agricultural nutrient sourced from geologic deposits

November 15, 2016

This report summarizes the primary sources of potash in the United States. Potash is an essential nutrient that, along with phosphorus and nitrogen, is used as fertilizer for growing crops. Plants require sufficient potash to activate enzymes, which in turn catalyze chemical reactions important for water uptake and photosynthesis. When potassium is available in quantities necessary for healthy plant growth, disease resistance and physical quality are improved and crop yield and shelf life are increased. Potash is a water-soluble compound of potassium formed by geologic and hydrologic processes. The principal potash sources discussed are the large, stratiform deposits that formed during retreat and evaporation of intracontinental seas. The Paradox, Delaware, Holbrook, Michigan, and Williston sedimentary basins in the United States are examples where extensive potash beds were deposited. Ancient marine-type potash deposits that are close to the surface can be mined using conventional underground mining methods. In situ solution mining can be used where beds are too deep, making underground mining cost-prohibitive, or where underground mines are converted to in situ solution mines. Quaternary brine is another source of potash that is recovered by solar evaporation in manmade ponds. Groundwater from Pleistocene Lake Bonneville (Wendover, Utah) and the present-day Great Salt Lake in Utah are sources of potashbearing brine. Brine from these sources pumped to solar ponds is evaporated and potash concentrated for harvesting, processing, and refinement. Although there is sufficient potash to meet near-term demand, the large marine-type deposits are either geographically restricted to a few areas or are too deep to easily mine. Other regions lack sources of potash brine from groundwater or surface water. Thus, some areas of the world rely heavily on potash imports. Political, economic, and global population pressures may limit the ability of some countries from securing potash resources in the future. In this context, a historical perspective on U.S. potash production in a global framework is discussed.

Publication Year 2016
Title Potash—A vital agricultural nutrient sourced from geologic deposits
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161167
Authors Douglas B. Yager
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2016-1167
Index ID ofr20161167
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center