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New report says domestic deposits of phosphate could replace overseas imports including politically controversial sales by Morocco

Rural News / news
New report says domestic deposits of phosphate could replace overseas imports including politically controversial sales by Morocco
Photo by Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash.

Much of the phosphate used on New Zealand farms could be sourced locally, according to a new report. 

This could end New Zealand’s dependence on phosphate from land held by Morocco in defiance of the United Nations

Phosphorus is an essential ingredient for metabolism in plant cells. However, its natural presence in the soil is depleted by New Zealand’s practice of intensive agriculture.

So, New Zealand imported 689,000 tonnes in 2021 figures, 51% coming from Morocco and its occupied neighbour, Western Sahara. 

This trade attracted controversy in 2017 when a 54,000-tonne shipment of phosphate rock bound for Tauranga was seized in South Africa over claims it was mined illegally. 

A new report says this trade can be replaced by local product. 

The report is called Sustainable Phosphate Futures and was done by the L&M mining group and a firm of consultants, the Agribusiness Group.  It was paid for by Our Land and Water, which is one of 11 Public Science Challenge organisations.

It says despite the importance of phosphate to the New Zealand economy, phosphate mining in New Zealand is largely historic, with approximately 140,000 tons of phosphate rock mined at Clarendon in south Otago up to 1924.

There was also some mining during World War II, when phosphate rock from Nauru was unavailable.

The report says there is still rock available at Clarendon, as well as North Canterbury, South Canterbury and Waitaki, and says fertiliser from these sources would be competitive with products manufactured using imported phosphate rock.

And it would have a far lower environmental impact, with lower transport emissions.  In total, there would be 76 tonnes of CO2 equivalents emitted per tonne, which is 49% of the rate emitted from imported product.

There would also be lower levels of the cadmium than is often found with phosphate ore.

The report says these factors could be very useful if a New Zealand Government ever puts farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

“In summary, the use of New Zealand-sourced phosphate for fertiliser appears to be viable and feasible, while providing potential economic and environmental benefits,” the report concludes.

It proposes undertaking a more detailed analysis of the environmental and economic impacts. In addition, phosphate should be included in a list of strategic raw materials. New Zealand has no such list, unlike the European Union and Australia. 

Information from the Fertiliser Association shows that 49% of phosphate is used on dairy farms and 43% on sheep and beef farms. Overall phosphate use is about half what it was at its peak in 2006, due to high prices and lower incomes in the sheep and beef sectors.

The most famous recent attempt to mine phosphate was aimed at the Chatham Rise, which is a spur of shallow water stretching off the east coast of the South Island.

The company that set out to exploit this was Chatham Rock Phosphate, which was denied a Marine Consent in 2015 and endured a catastrophic collapse in its market capitalisation a result.

But Chatham Rock Phosphate has not given up. In a statement to the Stock Exchange last December, it said it still has a mining permit, and has recovered a lot of its value.

It said it had raised $11.3 million from investors in nine countries.

“CRP is expecting to raise the funds required to complete the Marine Consent reapplication and to cover the costs of the Environmental Protection Authority hearing,” the statement says.

“This would come from either further share subscriptions or operating cash flows from the Korella or Avenir Makatea projects,” the statement said. 

These two projects are sited in Queensland and French Polynesia. 

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This is seabed mining at the expense of the environment, water quality and the fish that live and breed there.

A more appropriate photo.


There are deposits on dry land in NZ as well.


Humans living and breathing is always at the expense of other species competing for the same planet.


But if we get someone, somewhere else to mine it under worse conditions and oversight, it's ok.

Likewise most other things we want to buy.

And then complain how much it costs to pay a fellow citizen to build us a house. Just get Filipinos to do it! But, don't bring in any migrants.

Basically, if we could have our cake and eat it too, that'd be dandy.


We're in the food business in NZ. We grow food for forty million people every year. It could be more but we don't want to be greedy. I have been through this exercise multiple times over the past decade [or longer] each time from a slightly different angle, to make sure I fully understood the whole equation, which meant taking a holistic approach of the good, the bad & the ugly, & each time I came to the end of the exercise, it came out as use it, or lose it. As it stands we are currently losing it. This is not ideal. My only addendum would be to the developers to create something of value [on the land based sites] in the form of something really cool, such as a long term recreational facility or whatever. Anything really as long as it adds value to the nation & its citizens long term, post the development.  

Now it's your turn PDK.


Little mining expertise in NZ or miners in NZ. Capital within NZ for mining close to zero. All expertise resides in Australia from geologists, metallurgists, process engineers for mining down to operators. I wish them luck but the RMA  and DOC will be the biggest hurdle. Maybe a project could be subject to fast track consent.

" In addition, phosphate should be included in a list of strategic raw materials. New Zealand has no such list, unlike the European Union and Australia. " Fairly damning



Thing is if we don't have phosphate our agriculture exports are doomed. If there is some on our Islands lets use it.

Ultimately it will run out. But what are our options?

Have to add, it is not our farming that is depleting phosphate in the soil. NZ soils are naturally low. Farming has in fact increased the level of phosphate by importing this mineral and spreading it on the land.

NZ agriculture is beholden to imported nutrients.


DOC is only involved if it is  doc land.


What you find when you bother to go look for it.

"The Norwegian deposit is estimated to just under 71 billion tonnes of proven world reserves as evaluated by the US Geological Survey in 2021. 

By far the largest phosphate rock deposits in the world – around 50 billion tonnes – are situated in Morocco. The next biggest are located in China (3.2 billion tonnes), Egypt (2.8 billion tonnes), and Algeria (2.2bn tonnes), according to US estimates.

“Now, when you find something of that magnitude in Europe, which is larger than all the other sources we know – it is significant,” said Michael Wurmser, founder of Norge Mining, the company behind the discovery.…


It seems crazy that New Zealand does not have a list of strategic raw materials, seeing how easily we would be cut of from the world if the brown stuff hit the fan


I'm surprised the CRP stock price didn't rise on the new bulldoze it thru laws.

Down at the Chathams, difficult to protest about and a  we use a lot of it.

Need to keep an eye on Shane Jones blind trusts

I can smell phosphate on his breath. 


Great article and good comments guys.

I was expecting a crazy amount of objection as with anything NZ tries to do that would make us more self sufficient. 

Basically NZ is politically banned from creating any new mines, hence why all the skills come over here to AUS.

We could be doing so much better, like actually taking stock of what we would need if the world ever turned to shit and perhaps investing in at least getting the basics set up. Evening mining more coal would have a number of benefits, such as not having to import it from indonesia where there are limited environmental protections, not to mention developing both physical and human capital. 

And there is plenty of crap quality DoC land that would be a lot better served being used for mining...Maybe the government could actually make some money??


Can you point out a piece of crap quality doc land?

I would say there is some they don't have the money to restore, but doesn't mean that land is crap.