POTASH bosses have launched £50m expansion plans to tighten their grip on the lucrative fertilizer market, The Northern Echo can reveal.

ICL Fertilizers says it will build a granulation plant to ramp up polyhalite work at its Cleveland Potash mine at Boulby, in east Cleveland.

The factory could open in three years, turning hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fine polyhalite into granules for agricultural use.

The company said granule production will reduce waste, maximise sales and give farmers a preferred source of polyhalite.

The company also reiterated proposals to extend its mine by at least another 40 years, to secure the futures of the next generation of workers.

Its existing planning permission is due to expire in 2023, with a new application expected to be submitted by 2019.

The polyhalite granulation plans come as it continues with a separate £38m investment across its mine, surface facilities and Teesport loading site to increase production of the mineral, which received support from the Government's Regional Growth Fund money.

That development is expected to be completed early next year, allowing it to mine about 600,000 tonnes of polyhalite, which bosses say holds key minerals capable of delivering strong crop growth, every year from 2018.

David Zvida, ICL’ Fertilizers’ managing director and general manager, said: “Polyhalite is a big product for us.

“We did 100,000 tonnes last year, but hope to take that up to 600,000 tonnes by 2018.

“It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg.

“You need the product to sell, but need to sell the product.

“We hope to be ready in February next year with the investment in the mine, the surface facilities and the dock to start increasing production.

“Then it’s about the third phase and extending the investment with the granulation plant.”

The company operates the UK’s only potash mine, producing more than a million tonnes of potash for fertilizers and in excess of half a million tonnes of salt every year.

Mr Zvida said those statistics meant it was committed to strengthening its standing in east Cleveland, where it lies as a cornerstone of the local employment landscape with more than 1,200 workers.

He added: “We are now working on the planning application, which we will submit by about 2019.

“That will be for at least 40 years.

“We want to be here and to continue growing.

“The majority of people who work here are from the local community and we are committed to supporting that community.”