BHP Touts Potash Growth as Major Canadian Investment Looms

Global demand for potash could grow by as much as 3% a year over the next decade, BHP Group said as the world’s biggest miner prepares to decide on a major investment in the crop nutrient in Canada.

BHP remained on track to take a final investment decision on the Jansen potash project around the middle of 2021, the company said Thursday in a presentation, pending finalization of port and rail arrangements and a final risk assessment. The first phase of development is seen costing between $5.3 billion and $5.7 billion, with initial production expected within five to six years.

Potash prices have rallied this year, boosted by the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Nutrien Ltd., the world’s biggest fertilizer company, said earlier this month that it plans to boost its potash production by about half a million metric tons more than it previously expected this year amid strong global demand.

“Potash is a future-facing commodity that is positively leveraged to global mega-trends, including decarbonization,” Huw McKay, BHP’s chief economist, said on a conference call. “While the industry is currently subject to excess capacity, the demand trajectory is expected to absorb this overhang over the course of this decade.”

Demand could rise to as much as 97 million tons by 2035, from around 70 million tons currently, BHP said, with consumption expected to catch up with supply by the late 2020s or early 2030s. Canada was well placed to meet that demand growth, having more than half of the global reserve base. It already accounts for almost a third of global potash exports.

Read: BHP Runs Rule Over Troubled Potash Project as Decision Looms

Nutrien has been touted as a potential partner for BHP in Jansen, with the miner seen benefiting from Nutrien’s industry knowledge and marketing expertise. BHP has struggled with the project for years, having down-sized earlier plans for a bigger concept and already ploughed at least $4.5 billion into its development.

“Our decision on Jansen depends on more than just the fundamentals of potash,” said Ragnar Udd, president of BHP’s minerals Americas business. “We’re still finalizing a port, and that remains one of the key steps for us to work for,” he said. The group was considering either a commercial option at the port of Vancouver, or a purpose-built greenfield facility at the port.

BHP shares were down 1.5% at A$47.64 at 10:58 a.m. Sydney time on Thursday, compared to a 0.5% decline in the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index.

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