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Can Australia ‘seize the moment’ with billions of tons of phosphate for fertilizer?

Spanning 330,000 square kilometers across the Northern Territory and Queensland, the Georgina Basin contains some of the world’s largest deposits of rock phosphate – a key ingredient for fertilizer making.

There are several commodities companies in the region looking to start mines, and with fertilizer prices rising globally, the timing seems right.

“There are billions of tons of quality phosphate throughout the Georgina Basin…so we have an opportunity, but we need to seize the moment,” said Colin Randall, executive director of Chatham Rock Phosphate.

Mr Randall, who was one of the speakers at this week’s Fertilizer Australia conference in Darwin, said that similar to eastern Australia’s coal exports and WA iron ore exports, the Georgina Basin would “have its day” with the supply rock phosphate to customers in Australia and around the world.

“Australia will have the capacity to be a reliable supplier, not necessarily the cheapest, but certainly a reliable supplier of quality and low cadmium phosphate,” he said.

Mr Randall said fertilizer projects in Australia faced a range of challenges, especially in terms of logistics and distance to the market, but that “all mines are running out” and Australia had a product the world needed.

Fertilizer Prices Chart
Fertilizer prices have risen.Credit: Argus Media

The Holy Grail

Stephen Annells, CEO of Fertilizer Australia, said one of the priorities in his organization’s three-year strategic plan was to lobby for more local production.

“Local production and sovereign capacity is the holy grail [for the fertiliser industry],” he said.

He said the Georgina Basin offered “many opportunities” and several exciting potash, phosphate and nitrogen projects were emerging across the country, such as Strike Energy’s urea proposal in Western Australia.

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An opportunity presents itself

Verdant Minerals is one of the companies operating in the Georgina Basin.

In recent years, it has changed its strategy from simply mining and exporting rock phosphate to building an on-site processing facility that can produce 1 million tons of ammonium phosphate fertilizer annually.

“Australia needs to become more self-reliant in these agricultural inputs,” said Chris Tziolis, Verdant’s general manager.

“I think, as we’ve all seen in recent times, how supply chains can come under pressure or stall due to various global events, so we need to make sure we have security of supply because right now the most important input for [Australian agriculture] are largely imported.”

Verdant Minerals will complete its final feasibility study later this year and has received major project status from both the federal and NT governments.

If all goes according to plan, Tziolis said production would begin in 2026.

“Ours is a big project, $2 billion in capital, more than 1,000 jobs in construction — that’s a big deal in that part of the world.”

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