fertilisation field

Around 40% of the world’s potash comes from Russia and Belarus

Food companies will be “fully dependent” on Russian fertiliser for the next decade, despite efforts to cut ties in the wake of the war in Ukraine, a leading supplier has warned.

While boosting domestic production of fertiliser is now a priority in counties like the UK, inadequate global supplies of key fertiliser components such as potash are set to be a limiting factor for years to come.

Nearly half of the world’s potash is still sourced from Russia and Belarus, despite world leaders’ efforts to distance themselves from both countries in the wake of the invasion. 

“Insufficient existing production capacity is the biggest factor preventing an immediate switch in supply country,” said Matt Simpson, CEO of Brazil Potash. He added any new potash projects took at least five-10 years to develop.

“This is a wake-up call that there are some essential items that need to be sourced domestically.”

Fertiliser prices shot up last year after Russia stockpiled much of its potash supply for domestic use, triggering higher costs of production and pushing food prices up in the supermarkets. 

UK farmers forked out an extra £760m for fertiliser over the course of 2021-2022, Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) data showed.

Even though the UK has its own potash mine in Boulby, North Yorkshire, the country wasn’t yet self-sufficient in potash “by any stretch of the imagination”, according to Jack Watts, chief value chain analyst at the NFU.

Higher domestic supply “would have helped mitigate our exposure” to fertiliser shortages and higher prices, he said.

Earlier this week, the boss of one of the world’s biggest fertiliser firms, Yara, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Russian president Vladimir Putin was using potash as “a weapon” and that countries needed to cut their reliance on Russian resources.

The United Nations recently said that EU domestic supply from ongoing mine projects was expected to reduce dependence on Belarusian and Russian imports from 2025 onwards.