SOLIGORSK, BELARUS—In the massive Soligorsk mine, workers 2,000 feet below ground are drilling at seams of pinkish rock and rattling a $20 billion commodity market.
That pink rock is potash. The mine’s operator is a state-owned producer that has been outcompeting rival suppliers of the crucial fertilizer in a business that many who follow it say was long shaped by cartels.
JSC Belaruskali’s output was once constrained by its membership in one of those groupings. But when it broke up two years ago, Belaruskali ramped up production and pushed into new markets. It now fills almost 17% of global potash demand and has become a major wild card for analysts and rivals alike.
“Nobody believed that [Belaruskali] would be able to find new clients,” said Aliaksandr Autushka-Sikorski, an analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank funded by the European Union. “They are unpredictable, and that is what makes them important.”
Potash is a compound of potassium, which, along with nitrogen and phosphorous, is essential for plant life. It strengthens plants and makes them more resistant to disease.
It is also important to Belarus’s contracting economy, accounting for 6.1% of exports last year and bringing in much-needed foreign currency.
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