If you live in the United States, it’s pretty likely that a mine like this one in Moab, Utah, helped get it on your plate. This mine produces muriate of potash, a potassium-containing salt used commonly by farmers in fertilizer.
Most potash forms in regions where inland seas or lakes dry out. Evaporated water leaves behind potassium salt deposits, and over time sediment buries it and they become potash ore. In Moab, this ore started to form about 300 million years ago. The miners pump water deep underground to reach the potash ore. Since potash is soluble, water dissolves it into a brine. Eventually this brine gets pumped up to the surface into one of the evaporation ponds shown in the photo. As the water evaporates, potash and other salts crystallize out. This evaporation process typically takes about 300 days. The water is dyed bright blue to reduce the amount of time it takes for the potash to crystallize; darker water absorbs more sunlight and heat. The crystals of potash and salt are then sent to a facility to be separated through a flotation process.
Because of its potassium content, potash is frequently combined with nitrogen and phosphate in the compound known as N-P-K fertilizer for its elemental symbols. All three nutrients are critical to plant growth, yield and quality.
Potassium is often called “the regulator” for its role in crop production. Nearly every aspect of plant growth development, yield and quality is dependent upon an adequate supply of potassium. Its importance cannot be overstated. As an essential plant nutrient, potassium cannot be replaced with other nutrients. As a fertilizer, potash has no commercially viable substitute.
Adding potash to the soil strengthens plant roots and stems, and helps fight diseases, pests and stress. It helps plants retain water and weather extreme temperatures. Potash increases the absorption of nitrogen and phosphate, and activates critical enzyme systems which improve crop quality.
The fertilizer industry consumed about 85 percent of what the United States produced last year, and the chemical industry used the rest. So, the next time you are flying over Utah and notice bright blue ponds that are strikingly rich in color…you’ll be a bit more educated on the potash mining industry and how it effects farming and the food you consume daily.