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Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited: Phosphate for the Future

Rock phosphate plays a crucial role as a key ingredient in fertilizers to significantly increase agricultural productivity.  

Direct application, low cadmium phosphates in particular result in healthier soil with less run-off into waterways and reduce the accumulation of heavy metal cadmium in the soil profile. 

Many nations rely on importing phosphate, leaving them vulnerable to potential supply chain issues which can have significant effects on their agricultural development.   

We got the chance to talk with Chris Castle, CEO of Chatham Rock Phosphate (CRP), to see how the company is working to establish itself as a global supplier of low cadmium direct application (organic) phosphate to the agriculture sector.  

He told us about the upcoming projects CRP has in the pipeline to become a global phosphate supplier through the development of mine complexes in Australia, French Polynesia and the company’s key investment in New Zealand, on the Chatham Rise.  

Over the years, CRP has transformed from a single project company, with a New Zealand focus facing uncertain and expensive permitting hurdles, to a rapidly expanding group of projects moving closer to generating cash flow.  

From its initial developments on the Chatham Rise in New Zealand CRP has expanded operations into its other phosphate projects firstly in French Polynesia and then Australia. 

This spread of projects has moved it toward providing sustainable supply chains of phosphate for agriculture globally. 

The central development for CRP this year is fast-tracking the development of its Korella North Mine operation in NW Queensland, Australia. The Korella North Mine (EPM 28589) is a near-surface phosphate deposit, that is roughly 22 metres thick and has a low-cost entry for mining to commence.  

The site has been chosen for its crucial adjacent major road and rail links, allowing bulk loading into road trains and onto rails and then onto ships in the ports of Townsville and Karumba. 

CRP is applying for a mining lease to enable early production from the identified 2.7 million tonne reserve.  

The Korella North mine is expected to have a mine life of up to 8 years at the current projected production rates and will provide a local source of phosphate for sugar cane, bananas, cotton and cropping activities in northern Queensland and the Northern Territory.  

Korella phosphate provides a key input into agricultural development in northern Australia and provides stability of supply for the surrounding regions.  

Once CRP is granted  the exploration lease, expected towards the end of December 2023, it will then undertake drilling and trenching to further delineate mining reserves and expand and extend the life of the mine. The first sales of phosphate rock are projected for Q2 of 2024, to deliver the mined phosphate rock to dry land cotton and cropping areas in the north of Australia.  

The second nearer term Australian project is the Korella South Project, a 200 square km exploration area designated EPM28589.  

This project is 10km south of Korella North and adjacent to two existing mining leases at Phosphate Hill. The project has a target of 60 million tonnes contained in the approximately 11m thick bottom section of the Monastery Creek Phosphorite Member.  

The Korella South Project is based on a 2 million tonne per annum export mine of direct shipping phosphate. The exploration area was granted in December 2022 and, following preliminary assessments, will be the subject of exploration in Q1 2024. 

CRP started in the phosphate business in 2007, developing the offshore phosphorites of New Zealand contained on the seabed of the Chatham Rise. Its current Chatham Rise mining permit covers 820 square kilometres (km2) of seabed area, 450 km east of Christchurch in New Zealand.  

The extraction of rock phosphate would result in a local phosphate resource to increase certainty of supply, reduce transport costs and reduce by 90% the related carbon emissions arising from current importation to New Zealand of phosphates from north Africa. 

With CRP’s acquisition of Avenir Makatea Pty Limited, it acquired, through its wholly-owned French Polynesian subsidiary, SAS Avenir Makatea, a research permit to explore phosphate resources on the island of Makatea in French Polynesia.  

The island is a well-known historical source of phosphate, mined from 1906 to 1966. Significant phosphate resources remain as well as other valuable byproducts, including food grade limestone,  which the exploration permit encompasses.  

SAS Avenir Makatea was granted the exploration permit covering 10.36 km2 in 2014. In 2016 it applied for a concession to implement mining and rehabilitation operations across the previously mined land. The administrative process for the granting of a mining concession on Makatea is expected to continue throughout 2023.  

Behind CRP’s expansive operations is Chris Castle’s small but knowledgeable team, working with numerous contractors and consultants to develop phosphorous resources. With a primary focus on mining and selling low cadmium organic reactive phosphate, Chris Castle believes in focusing on teamwork through its operations, as through empowerment of your team, he believes obstacles can easily be overcome.  

As CRP continues to strive for success and expand operations across the phosphate and agriculture industries, Castle’s central philosophy of “never give up, nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy” really rings true.  

CRP has acquired key assets and permits to position itself as a major supplier of direct application organic phosphate to New Zealand, Australia, and the global agricultural sector in the coming years. As the four phosphate projects (Korella North, Korella South, Chatham Rise, and SAS Avenir Makatea) become fully permitted we look forward to observing CRP rapidly moving into phosphate production and making a critical contribution to the global agriculture sector.