in a Potash Mine
Miners descend to their working
areas, or mine faces, in a cable-operated
"cage," moving down
at a speed of up to 390 metres
per minute. Breathing fresh
air drawn from the surface and
circulated by fans, the miners
use the "room-and-pillar"
method to extract the potash
ore. The areas mined (rooms)
are separated by un-mined areas
of the same size (pillars),
to provide support for the mine.
Working areas may be several
kilometres from the shaft, accessible
through tunnels created by self-propelled
boring machines with rotary
blades. Ore is stored in bins,
which are transported by conveyor
belts to large-capacity boxes
called "ore skips,"
for hoisting to the surface.
Esterhazy : Potash
Supplier to the World
As the world's largest producer of potash,
a key potassium-supplying ingredient of
plant fertilizers, the province of Saskatchewan
owes its economic windfall to geological
history. When the inland sea that once covered
southern Saskatchewan evaporated, it left
behind massive layers of potash (potassium
chloride), about 1-2 kilometres below the
At the underground K-1 and K-2 mines near
Esterhazy, in the lower Qu'appelle Valley,
millions of tonnes of potash are produced
each year. In combination, the Esterhazy
mines are the largest potash-producing facility
in the world.
the Blairmore: In the 1950's, when
mining exploration revealed the magnitude
of the Saskatchewan potash deposit, mining
technology was called upon to devise a method
to extract it. At Esterhazy, shafts were
sunk through a shifting, treacherous 90
metre layer of sand and water, known as
the "Blairmore Formation." In
order to prevent the sand and water from
breaking through and flooding the shaft,
this layer was frozen until the shaft was
reinforced with concrete and steel "tubbing."
Esterhazy's first K-1 mine began commercial
production in 1962. A second K-2 shaft was
completed 10 kilometres away in 1967, and
is connected underground to the K-1 mine.
Saskatchewan Potash Primer
About 95% of potash produced in the
world is used for fertilizer, with 5% used
in commercial and industrial products such
Potash is processed from potassium-bearing
ores such as sylvanite (a mixture of sylvite
and common salt). Potassium chloride is
the type of potash mined in Saskatchewan.
Most Saskatchewan potash mines practice
conventional underground mining. Two mines
use the solution method, pumping brine to
the surface for recrystallization.
In the ground, potash ore is a mixture
of red and white crystals with traces of
clay and other impurities. After processing,
it is white in its pure form but appears
pink due to some impurities.
Finer grade fine potash powder is
sold to chemical and manufacturing industries,
while coarser granules are sold as fertilizer.
Like salt, potash reacts to moisture,
and must be kept dry.
Canada is the world's largest producer
of potash, and Saskatchewan is Canada's
largest producer of potash, producing 90%
of Canada's total output (8 million tonnes),
and about one-quarter of the world's supply.
Net Saskatchewan potash sales in
1997 exceeded $2.3 billion USD.
The largest single producer of potash
in Saskatchewan is the Potash Corporation
of Saskatchewan. Esterhazy's potash mines
are operated by the IMC Global Inc. and
the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (Esterhazy
In addition to Esterhazy,Saskatchewan
potash mines are located in Colonsay, Belle-Plaine,
Allan, Saskatoon, Lanigan, Patience Lake,
Rocanville and Vanscoy.
From Cattle to
Canola: Agriculture in the Qu'appelle Valley
Although half the wheat produced in Canada
is grown in Saskatchewan, the province's
agricultural industry has become more diversified.
In the fertile Qu'appelle Valley, beef and
hog farms, as well as fields of wheat, canola,
rye, oats, barley and flaxseed, contribute
to an industry which still produces 20%
of Saskatchewan's gross domestic product
and employs 20% of it work force.
Qu'appelle Valley farms, like many in Saskatchewan,
are large and sophisticated. The town of
Indian Head, east of Regina and south of
the Fishing Lakes at Fort Qu'appelle, is
the valley's agricultural centre. Crop and
soil enhancement methods are studied at
the Indian Head Research Farm (part of the
federal government's Semiarid Prairie Agricultural
Research Centre), and the Indian Head Agricultural
Research Foundation assists in developing
sustainable agriculture systems and adopting
them to the larger community. The Foundation's
research projects include investigation
of Precision Farming techniques, using modern
GPS (Global Positioning System) and CAT
(Computer Aided Technology) for soil sampling
and calculation of variable-rate fertilization.
Just south of Indian Head, the PFRA
(Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act) Shelterbelt
Centre produces hardy trees and shrubs
for prairie farmers, and conducts research
on tree-related issues such as pest control
and planting technology. The Centre is open
to the public, offering horticultural displays,
an arboretum, a perennial flower display
and a nature trail.