A MAJOR mine in the region is today switching production - bringing an end to more than 45 years of potash mining in east Cleveland.

Boulby mine announced earlier this year that traditional potash fertiliser stocks were close to exhaustion and that it was switching to producing the multi-nutrient fertiliser polyhalite, with 230 jobs put at risk.

The mine once employed thousands and despite numbers now dwindling to around 500 staff as part of the restructure, it still remains east Cleveland's largest employer.

It is hoped the production switch will ensure the longer-term future at Boulby.

Today parent company ICL's president Raviv Zoller visited the mine to officially launch Potashplus, one of a range of planned products being developed by ICL. Boulby is now the world's first polyhalite mine, beating rival Sirius Minerals, which is building a mine nearby and is expected to be in production by 2022.

Mr Zoller said: “I want to thank every single one of our ICL Boulby employees, as well as our extensive research and marketing teams, for helping us bring this exciting new product to the market."

He talked about developing projects with a 'long-term, sustainable view' and added: "The Boulby Mine has been a part of the community here in East Cleveland since operations began in 1973 and we are committed to ensuring that it will play an important and supportive role to those communities for many years to come.

Potashplus is based on ICL's Polysulphate product, which an alternative source of potassium and offers four key nutrients crops need to grow, increasing agricultural yields for farmers. It is hoped it will become a high-value export product for the UK.

The Boulby mine produced 450,000 tonnes of polyhalite last year and is the only commercial source of the mineral in the world.

ICL Boulby’s General Manager, Andrew Fulton, said: “We’ve seen demand for Polysulphate grow exponentially in the last couple of years and expect sales to reach a million tonnes per year by 2020 and up to three million tonnes per year by 2030."

The launch was also welcomed by Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Simon Clarke who joined Mr Zoller in praising the achievement in making the transition to polyhalite.

He said: “The Boulby mine is a cornerstone of the East Cleveland economy and a strategic asset for the whole of the UK. I am really pleased that its future as a producer of polyhalite is secure. No transition of this magnitude is ever easy, but it is tribute to both the leadership of the business and its skilled and professional workforce that they have handled it with grit and a fierce determination to succeed. I stand ready to do whatever I can to help ensure the mine benefits our area far into the future.”