THE KEYLINE PLAN
by P. A. Yeomans
PUBLISHED BY P.A. YEOMANS
537 ELIZABETH STREET
My registered cattle brand is a Circled Y. The above sign has
been used as a business sign, almost a trade mark, for a
number of years, consequently it is regarded with a certain
amount of affection by my family. Some years after first using
it I was told that it was a very old Northern European or
Germanic symbol meaning--the living man -the signal of
victory; that it derives from the ancient Sanskrit sign of
life-fertility --and well being.
All of these things have their foundation in fertile
soil-always the dominating factor.
This book is dedicated to The Fertile Soil.
The health and well being of mankind depends first on the
fertility of the soil.
The development and custody of fertile soil is the great
responsibility, of the men and women on the land.
Adequate and permanent tree belts are necessary for the full
protection of all the land.
Percival Alfred Yeomans (P.A.) was born in Harden N.S.W. in
1905, eldest son of a family of four. In 1928 he married Rita
Irene May Barnes, also of Harden. They had three children;
Neville born in 1928, Allan in 1931 and Ken in 1947. Rita
Yeomans died 1964 and the two original Keyline properties at
North Richmond N.S.W. were sold to pay death duties.
P. A. Yeomans married Jane Radek in 1966 and they had two
daughters, Julie and Wendy.
Following this marriage he undertook the design and
construction of a different concept in cultivation equipment.
He solved the need for better equipment than the chisel plow
to deeply loosen soil without bringing up the subsoil. This
equipment was the first rigid shanked vibrating sub-soil
cultivating ripper for use with farm tractors. It is many
times more efficient than a chisel plow, and is able to loosen
more soil to a greater depth using less tractor power.
The Prince Philip Design Award officially recognised the
breakthrough success of this equipment in 1974 when P. A.
Yeomans Pty Ltd received this coveted award for the Bunyip
Slipper Imp with Shakaerator.
Manufacture of the Bunyip Slipper Imp eventually passed from
P. A. Yeomans Pty Ltd to the Yeomans Plow Company, which is
now based at Molendinar in South-east Queensland. This company
is owned and directed by Allan J. Yeomans the second son of P.
A. Yeomans. The equipment has undergone further developed
including some landmark design breakthroughs and has been
renamed the Yeomans Keyline Plow.
P. A. Yeoman devoted much of his latter life time to
consulting, advising and lecturing on Keyline planning for
which he has received requests from many parts of the world.
P. A. Yeomans passed away, aged 79 years, in November 1984.
The Late Percival Alfred ("P.A.")
A MAN BEFORE HIS TIME
Percival Alfred Yeomans or "P.A" as he became known to all
alike, changed Australian agriculture. It is doubtful that any
man in this country's history has had such a profound
influence on the thinking and methods used by the Australian
He was from the country, but grew up in a town. His father,
James Yeomans was a train driver, and close friend of our
World War Two Prime Minister, Ben Chifley.
When P.A. started farming he had already achieved considerable
success in business. He applied the same thoughtful and common
sense approach to agriculture that had proven so successful in
his other ventures. He knew what Australian agriculture
needed. He created a "sustainable agricultural" system before
the term was even coined. A permanent agriculture, he
believed, must materially benefit the farmer, it must benefit
the land and it must benefit the soil.
His ideas of collecting and storing large quantities of run
off water on the farm itself for subsequent irrigation was
virtually unheard of, and quite opposed to state soil
conservation departments then, and by some even now. His ideas
to create within the soil a biological environment to actually
increase fertility was unique, and totally opposed to the
simplistic approach of the agricultural chemical industry. His
ideas that using tyned tillage equipment and a unique concept
of pattern cultivation could totally solve the ravages of
erosion, was sacrilege in the eyes of extravagant and wasteful
soil conservation services. They still are seen as a sacrilege
to convention by many, even to this day. A quotation from the
great German physicist; Max Planck, (1885 - 1947) seems so
relevant to the concepts, the thoughts and the beliefs of P.
"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its
opponents and making them see the light, but rather because
its opponents eventually die".
For how much longer must we say, "So let it be with Keyline"?
In retrospect, Yeomans' entry into the farming world appears
almost inevitable. As a young, man after abandoning a possible
career in banking, he tried several fields, including the then
very new, plastics industry. At one stage he was a highly
successful door to door "Fuller Brush Salesman". The wealth
and excitement of mining however, fascinated him and during
those hard depression years, and with a small family, he
completed a correspondence course in mining geology. That
course changed the direction of his life. In the wild and
charlatan mining days of the 1930's, he established the rare
reputation of being a reliable and trustworthy assayer, and
valuer of gold and tin mining projects. A reputation he held
throughout the mining fields of Eastern Australia and New
The family was constantly on the move. It took less than half
a day in the town of Snake Valley in south western Victoria to
disprove the wild claims of riches of yet another gold strike.
He eventually established himself as an earth moving
contractor in the early pre-war years. This business grew, and
his company, P. A. Yeomans Pty Ltd became one of the major
earth moving contractors supplying open cut coal to the war
time Joint Coal Board.
The enormous war time taxes on company and personal income
continued for many years after the close of the war. A tax
incentive however had been established to encourage the
introduction of soil conservation practices, and encourage a
possible change to, what we now call, sustainable agriculture.
Food production would be enhanced and the terrible dust storms
that ravaged the country, mitigated.
Income earned from non agricultural sources could be spent on
saving the land. If farm dams, fences and contour drains could
be constructed economically, and beneficially, this could
result in a considerable capital gain. Capital Gains Tax
itself did not exist. It came much later as yet another
imposition on initiative. So was born the "Pitt Street Farmer"
(or Collins Street, depending on your state capital city).
Consequently, in 1943 Yeomans bought two adjoining blocks of
poor unproductive land, totalling a thousand acres, forty
miles west of Sydney. The farm manager was his brother in law
Jim Barnes. Conventional soil conservation practices then in
vogue, were commenced. These practices had been adopted by the
newly formed state soil conservation services. They
unfortunately originated from the agriculturally illogical
practices, "invented" by the United States Corp of Engineers,
guided and advised by U. S. Army construction officers. The
doctrines of soil conservation departments, in Australia, have
been fairly inflexible on these issues, and department after
department adopted and promulgated these extravagant and
useless practices. In those years that's all there was and
these practices were tried by Yeomans and proved wanting.
A horrific grass fire, fanned by one hundred kilometres an
hour winds, raced through the properties. It was the tenth day
of December 1944. Jim Barnes was riding the horse "Ginger"
that day, but they could not out run the speeding flame front.
Only "Ginger survived the ordeal, and was retired to become a
family pet. After this tragic accident, it was some time
before a family decision finally concluded that, the farms
should not be sold.
All the experience gathered in those years of mining and
earthmoving Yeomans then brought into play. The twin blocks
became "Yobarnie", a combination of Yeomans and Barnes and
"Nevallan", from his two sons Neville and Allan. Ken was born
later in 1947.
The cheap storage and transportation of water, over long
distances, are usually the life blood of a successful gold
mine, and Yeomans became convinced it could be the life blood
of a successful farm in Australia. Yeomans then became an avid
reader and soon realised that conventional agricultural wisdom
totally ignored the biological aspects of soil. The concept of
totally inverting topsoil by using mouldboard and disc type
ploughs was progressively destroying the fertility of world
He applied the wisdom of T. J. Barrett, Edward Faulkner,
Bertha Damon, Friend Sykes, Andre Voisin and many others, to
Australian broadacre fanning. So for the first time in human
history, techniques were developed that could produce rich
fertile soil, thousands of times faster than that produced in
the unassisted natural environment. This then became, after on
farm water storage, the second major facet of Keyline which is
also having a significant influence on Australian agriculture.
Being a mining geologist, and understanding the underling
geological structures, gave him an appreciation of land form
that is almost totally lacking in the farming world. With
brilliant insight he combined the concept of the ever
repeating weathering patterns of ridges and valleys, with
contour cultivation. He was well aware that when cultivating
parallel to a contour line, the cultivating pattern rapidly
deviated from a true contour. He realised that this "off
contour cultivation", could be used to selectively reverse the
natural flow and concentration of water into valleys, and
drift it out to the adjacent ridges. He discovered that a
contour line, that ran through that point of a valley, where
the steepness of the valley floor suddenly increased, had
unique properties. Starting from this line, and cultivating
parallel to it, both, above the line, and below the line,
produced off contour furrows, which selectively drifted water
out of the erosion vulnerable valley. He named this contour
"The Keyline". The entire system became "The Keyline System".
The effects that P. A. Yeomans and The Keyline System have had
on Australia and Australian agriculture is profound. His last
book "The City Forest" Published in 1971 expanded the
application of the principals. In it, the same Keyline
concepts are used as a basis for the layout and design of
urban and suburban communities. City effluent and waste are
considered as valuable commodities. He proposed the creation
of tropical, and sub tropical rain forests, within the city
boundaries, as park lands , as sources of exotic timbers and
as the means of economically utilising city effluent for the
benefit of all. The City Forest has now become a textbook for
landscape architects and urban designers.
The equipment and the practices of Keyline, have become so
well established as part of Australian agriculture, that it
surprises many to realise this influence. In no other country
in the world, have farm irrigation dams, contour strip
forests, chisel ploughs, deep tillage cultivation, water
harvesting almost become a nation's "conventional
agriculture". P. A. Yeomans was constantly in conflict with
bureaucratic orthodoxy. So no stone monuments, nor official
recognition, has ever been accorded to his works. The changed
and changing face of the Australian landscape however, is his
immense and worthy memorial.
Allan J. Yeomans
Gold Coast City, Queensland
VISITORS to "Nevallan" and "Yobarnie", our properties near
North Richmond, in New South Wales, have, on many occasions,
asked me about my husband's interest in the land.
With these queries in mind, this foreword is written.
For a number of years my husband has made an intensive study
of land problems. It seems to give a feeling of satisfaction
in his life that no other type of work has been able to do.
Always an original thinker, with an inventive mind, , he has
spent hundreds of hours walking over the land and watching the
soil, oblivious to heat, cold and rain. Often he was up in the
middle of the night during heavy rain observing its effects on
some new cultivation or drain. He has conducted experiments
too numerous to mention and built implements to his own design
as well as having used any others available.
The growing of grass and tree seeds and the transplanting of
young trees were watched and tested. Experiments in the
methods of handling water by the "mining man" were tried. In
the earlier days of the work these mining methods of water
control were commended by visitors, but he was never
satisfied. Sometimes he would go on long moonlit walks over
the property trying to visualise the ultimate appearance of
the land when a particular scheme was completed.
The soil on which all his later work was done was poor,
worn-out shale and considered useless for anything except a
warm sheltered winter paddock. Knowledgeable land men could
only tell him what could not be done with it. However, he
persisted in his belief that this type of poor steep country
was the most important of all land, and a payable solution to
its particular problems was much more important than any of
them realised. He is an enthusiast and his faith in the
agricultural future of Australia is a tonic.
The property, bought originally as a business proposition, had
my brother, James Barnes, as manager. Following the tragic
bush fire at the end of 1944, when he was killed, we suddenly
found ourselves burdened with an undesired responsibility.
My husband, a city business man with varied interests, was not
a farmer, and my knowledge consisted of what slight
information was acquired as a girl from a father and brothers
who had been on the land. Surely little enough to accept the
responsibility of a 1000-acre property, and for some weeks
after the fire its fate hung in the balance.
The World War was on, labour problems were tremendous, and the
face of the area for the first six weeks was blackened and
parched, showing the scars of an Australian heritage, "a bush
fire". Fences were gone and the cattle scattered throughout
the district. Even the new house was partly burnt. It was by
no means an attractive task from any outlook.
However, the decision to carry on was made, and from this
unfavourable beginning, assisted by casual local labour, we
started the project now known as "Nevallan" and "Yobarnie".
The area was subdivided into two for convenience sake.
The agricultural side of my husband's affairs has been a
week-end occupation, but the land has gradually assumed
increasing importance in his life. He finds Soil Fertility,
with its potential national value, an absorbing subject.
During the years, while travelling through country areas of
the different States in connection with mining work, he often
commented on the regrettable signs of the dying fertility of
much of the land, the growing erosion problem and the
indifference of some owners. This indifference was due, not to
lack of interest, but to lack of knowledge. The information
then available to them was often vague, too technical or
He has been trying to develop a plan or system so that it can
be offered as a concrete proposal; one that all farmers could
understand and use to their advantage, regardless of each
individual problem. The growing favourable comments made by
visitors on the appearance of our property and the enthusiasm
of those who have had the Keyline Principle explained to them,
have strengthened his belief that at last he has found some
important answers to major agricultural problems.
My husband has endeavoured in this work to devise a cheaper
method, a workable plan that would show results, not only in
three or four years time, but next season and next year and
every year following. Now, after the years of study and
effort, he claims to have produced one.
The' results visible now are certainly intriguing. Where
previously existed sparsely grassed paddocks of little value
there is now a lush sward of rich pasture carrying many types
of grasses, some of which my husband has been told repeatedly
would not grow without irrigation in the County of Cumberland.
"Keyline" is the name he has given to his method of land
development. It is exciting and carries a message of hope to
all owners of land.
It gives them something to think about and apply to their own
soil, something within their financial range and a definite
plan that can be managed, in each man's sphere of operation.
In the first chapters of the book he described the meaning of
"Keyline", and with the understanding of this, the plan is
simple. The following instances denote reactions on visitors
of sight-seeing and verbal explanations.
One couple, while driving around, came to the "Keyline".
Instantly the wife understood it and tried eagerly to explain
to her husband. She even drew from her handbag paper and
pencil and made a small sketch, but he could not follow the
idea at first, and it took some further explanation before he
did. To her it was so simple.
Parties of students have covered the same ground; a few
grasped the principle immediately and groups would gather
quickly around them seeking enlightenment.
I have seen parties of men become so enthusiastic that for the
rest of their visit "Keyline" was their main topic of
If the enthusiasm shown by the "men of the land," who have
seen this work and discerned the meaning of Keyline
Absorption-fertility is any pointer to its possibilities, then
his efforts may have succeeded.
Sydney, March 1954
Keyline -A New Principle
THE Keyline plan embraces a system of progressive fertile soil
development for all crop and pasture lands as well as for the
steeper and rougher lands that have never before been capable
of fast, economic improvement.
Its primary aim is the development of better soil structure,
increased soil fertility and greater actual depth of fertile
soil. It includes new cultivation techniques; a method of farm
subdivision and layout; planning for timber and scrub clearing
and water conservation and irrigation. All are planned to
facilitate or assist in the production of fertile soil.
The Keyline plan is based primarily on a particular line or
lines called Keylines. These lines and others related to them
are used in all land development planning and act as guides
for farm working.
The first aim of Keyline is to provide simple means of
conserving all the rain that falls on the land into the soil
itself, retard its evaporation. rate and use this conserved
moisture for the rapid production of soil, fertility over both
small and large areas of land.
The simplest form of a Keyline is illustrated in Map 1. This
shows a valley formation by means of contour lines. The
180-foot contour line is the Keyline of this simple valley
The Keyline conception itself is a little technical, and an
explanation of what this basic idea involves is given first.
A Keyline is a level or sloping line extended in both
directions from a certain point in a valley, called the
"Keypoint". This marks or divides the two types of
relationship, always in the same vertical interval, that a
valley bears to its adjacent ridges. In one of these
relationships, that above the Keyline, the valley will be
narrower and steeper generally than the adjacent ridges on
either side of it. In the second relationship, existing below
the Keyline, the valley will be wider and flatter than its
immediately adjacent ridges, or shoulders.
The approximate point of this relationship change in the
valley is the Keypoint of this valley. A line, either a true
contour in both directions from, this point, or a gently
sloping line rising in one direction and falling in the other
direction (see later chapter) -- from this Keypoint is the
Keyline of this valley area.
Any property that includes in its area a watershed or water
divide has one or more Keylines.
In order to understand the full development and uses of this
and other Keylines, reference will be made to contour maps and
particular contour lines of the maps. Not all readers will
have had experience of these maps and their contour lines, but
the following description will make the later references
Contour lines, or contours, are lines on maps or marked on the
land itself to show particular levels. Map 1 is a simple
contour map and the contour lines on the map mark the levels.
All points on the lines marked with the various heights are
the same height as indicated by the figures. Thus on the
200-foot contour line all points are 200 feet above "datum".
Datum is very often mean sea-level, but may be any other
A contour line lies at right angles to the slope of the land;
as the slope changes direction the contour lines curve and
turn. Contour lines on a contour map are placed at regular
vertical heights apart. The distance apart is called the
vertical interval. On farm contour maps these range from 25
feet to 2 feet, according to the type of land formation and
accuracy desired. On Map 1 they are 10 feet apart vertically.
The space or interval between two contour lines is referred to
as a contour strip.
A contour map exhibits the formation of land by means of
The contour Map 1 exhibits a simple valley formation. The
centre line of the valley floor is indicated by a dotted line
and the downhill slope by an arrow.
The 220-foot contour is near the top of a watershed or water
divide. The valley formation starts between the 210- and
200-foot contours, as indicated by these two contour lines
coming closer together near the dotted line of the valley. The
actual slope here is steeper than that on either side between
the same two contour lines. This is the valley head. The
valley steepens a little more between the 200- and 190-foot
contours, as indicated by these two lines being closer
together than the 210- and 200-foot contours. The slope of the
valley then remains constant to the 180-foot contour in the
valley. This is indicated on the map by the distances between
the 200- and 190-foot contours and between the 190- and
180-foot contour lines at the centre valley point being
approximately equal. At this point, where the 180-foot contour
line crosses the dotted line of the valley bottom, a change
takes place in the character of the valley formation. The
valley bottom flattens considerably, as indicated by the
greatly increased distance in the valley bottom between
contour lines 180 and 170 feet.
The whole relationship of the valley to its adjacent ridges in
each contour strip has also changed.
Above the 180-foot contour line the valley bottom is steeper
and narrower than its adjacent ridges in the contour strips,
but below the 180-foot contour line the valley is flatter and
wider, in the contour strips, than its adjacent ridges. The
slope relationship between this valley and the adjacent ridges
continues through the lower contour strips of the map.
As a general rule, the relationship is constant for the
remainder of a valley. The line of this change of relationship
between the valley and its adjacent ridges in each contour
strip is the Keyline of this valley. The position or point of
this change in the valley itself is the Keypoint of the
My own discovery, study and use of this -peculiar
significance, relating to the varying valley and ridge forms,
is the basis of the Keyline plan. Its use in farming and
general land planning and development is discussed throughout
this book. A study of the topographical geography of general
land formation will show a remarkable consistency and
regularity in this changing relationship between valleys and
their adjacent ridges.
The crucial point of change in the valley floor slope, the
Keypoint, may coincide with the confluence of two or more
At the Keyline the line of the valley floor and adjacent ridge
slope are neutral.
Various types of land formations lend differing forms to their
Keylines, but generally the significant valley and ridge
relationship is consistent in the widest variations of land
It is important to keep in mind that the valley area in the
contour strip above the Keyline is narrower generally than the
adjacent ridge area and that the valley area in any contour
strip below the Keyline is wider generally than the adjacent
ridge area of the same contour strip.
The 180-foot contour line of Map 1 is the simplest form of
Keyline -- the Keyline of a single valley. Keylines, as
discussed here for farm work, are not located on the very
small scale contour maps of large land areas, such as
inch-to-the-mile land plans. Maps that have sufficient
contours to exhibit accurately every valley on a medium size
property will, however, enable the Keylines to be located
Before explaining the full development of Keyline, this simple
form is used in the next chapter to illustrate a practical
application of the Keyline principle.
Absorption -The First Need
THE use of the Keyline as a guide or design for cultivation is
discussed in this chapter. Keyline is a complete planning
guide for farm development. it would seem that an overall
picture of the plan should come before the details of Keyline
techniques. This, however, would involve so much discussion
and digression to explain new terms that it is proposed to
present the various factors which make up the complete plan in
the order that appears best for the sake of clarity. This
order may not be in the proper sequence of events as they
would be applied in practice.
As the various methods which make up the complete Keyline plan
affect and react on each other, some repetition is necessary.
Keyline cultivation is simply cultivating parallel to the
In the various methods of cultivation of the soil to prepare
land for sowing, several "workings" may be used. A "working"
is a complete covering of the land area at one time with
whatever implement is in use.
If one cultivation only is to be done, this single working
parallels the Keyline moving away from it. Cultivation that
requires more than one working to complete it is done parallel
to the Keyline on the last working only.
Map 2 is identical to Map 1 except that the Keyline, the
180-foot contour, has been emphasised and parallel lines have
been added. These lines illustrate the parallel furrows of
Keyline cultivation. The-parallel lines of Map 2 are drawn
paralleling the Keyline.
Above the Keyline these lines parallel the Keyline moving away
from the Keyline up the slope of the land.
Below the Keyline they parallel the Keyline moving down the
slope of the land.
Study of these parallel lines shows that above the Keyline
they do not evenly "cut-out" the valley and ridge slopes in
the first contour strip (190ft.-180ft.). The valley section is
"cut-out" before the ridge sections on either side of it.
These lines represent parallel Keyline cultivation runs
working away from the Keyline up the slope. When the
cultivation lines reach the 190-foot contour in the valley
they are some distance from and below the same contour lines
on the two adjacent ridges. They have reached a greater
vertical height in the valley than on the adjacent ridges. The
parallel cultivation lines which started on the level or
contour at the Keyline are higher in the valley than on the
adjacent ridges. They slope downwards from the steeper sloping
valley to the flatter sloping ridges on each side.
This parallel cultivation is continued to the upward limit of
the area or paddock. When the cultivation reaches this point,
there will be parts left unworked. These are cultivated out in
any convenient manner without reference to the Keyline or
parallel working. Their influence will not alter the
effectiveness of Keyline cultivation.
Below the Keyline the parallel lines of Map 2 start at the
Keyline and parallel below the Keyline down the slope of the
land. The cultivation that they represent does not evenly "cut
out" the valley and ridge slopes in the first contour strip,
that is from the Keyline to the 170-foot contour line. They
reach the 170-foot contour on the ridge slopes first while the
run in the valley is some distance from and above the 170-foot
contour line in the valley. The cultivation runs are again
generally higher in the valley than on the adjacent ridges in
the same contour strip. They also have this same downward
slope out of the valley to the adjacent ridges, as the
cultivation above the Keyline. The slope of the cultivation
furrows is now from the flatter sloping valley to the steeper
sloping ridges, whereas above the Keyline the slope is from
the steeper sloping valley to the flatter sloping ridges.
The cultivation of the area below the Keyline is completed by
continuing the parallel cultivation downward to the boundary.
When this is reached, areas not completely cut out are
cultivated in any convenient manner. Again their influence
will not alter the effectiveness of Keyline cultivation.
The significance of Keyline cultivation is apparent when two
factors are considered:
(1) Rainfall on or near a valley rapidly concentrates in the
valley and flows off the area not only preventing the ridges
from absorbing their fair share of the rainfall, but in poor
soil, taking with it some of the soil from both valley and
(2) Keyline cultivation is in effect many hundreds or
thousands of very small absorbent drains, preventing rainfall
from concentrating in the valley -- thus resisting and
offsetting the natural rapid concentration of this water into
Very heavy rainfall, after it has completely saturated the
soil which has been cultivated in this way, naturally starts
to move to its normal concentration lines in the valley. But
it is interrupted by the tendency of almost every cultivation
furrow to impede it and drift it away from the valley. The
flow movement of excess water is widened and its flow is kept
very shallow. The necessary time of concentration is increased
enormously, thus holding the water on the land longer. The
land will have time to absorb the rain that falls on it.
Rainfall of maximum intensity is robbed of its destructive
Keyline cultivation is completed in the order already
discussed. Cultivation above the Keyline is first completed to
enable land, usually the steeper areas, to absorb the maximum
or all the rain that falls on it.
This prevents rapid and concentrated run off on to the flatter
slope country and so protects all the land from water damage.
The general result is even absorption of rainfall over the
whole surface of steep land, similar in effect to the
absorption of rainfall on flat, fertile, absorbent land.
This part of the significance of Keyline as a cultivation
guide has been illustrated on the map with reference to
contour lines both above and below the Keyline. The only need
for these contour lines is for the sake of simpler
presentation. The Keyline is the only line which is
necessarily marked on the land area represented by Maps 1 and
2 for the practical application of Keyline cultivation.
On large areas of long slope country where, for some reason,
continuance indefinitely downward of the Keyline parallel
cultivation is undesirable, a line is used to terminate one
cultivation area and form the boundary for another.
This line is called a Guideline and is usually a true contour
line, marked at a suitable distance below the Keyline. It may
be a quarter mile or much further below. The area below this
Guideline is Keyline cultivated from the Guideline paralleling
Any contour line below the Keyline can be used as a
cultivation guide by simply Keyline cultivating from the line
downward. The effect of Keyline's cultivation diffusing and
even spreading of rainfall is still completely effective.
For Keyline cultivation a special implement is needed, which
properly follows the new working lines and for other
significant reasons. These are discussed later.
Although the Keyline as illust rated in Map 2 is a contour
line, Keyline cultivation is not strictly contour cultivation.
It is rather an "off the contour" type of cultivation, which
in no small measure depends for its effectiveness on this
planned drift away from the valleys.
Keyline diffuses rainfall evenly over the whole of the land to
absorb it in the greatest water conservation storage area --
the land itself.
The field of application of "Keyline" extends in scope greatly
from this simple first principle now presented.
Keyline planning can be applied on an area of virgin grassland
or forest to develop it into a farming or grazing property. In
timbered country it plans the clearing to retain timber in the
best places; it positions the house or homestead, all other
farm buildings, entrance and farm roads, large and small
paddocks, dam sites and irrigation areas. It guides the whole
course and sequence of development as well as the details of
all cultivation for soil fertility improvement and high
It can be applied as a planning guide to the layout and
development of a public park or to the further improvement of
a fully developed wheat farm or a fine grazing or dairy
Occasionally a very large property may have two sets of
Keylines, but generally these wider applications are outside
the scope of farming and this book, applying only to such
developmental projects as the entire watershed of a river
"Keyline" will apply to a single small or large paddock of a
farm or to land partly destroyed by erosion.
Although it cures and prevents soil erosion, this is
incidental to its purpose -- the development of fertile soil
by the factor of absorption.
Fertility -The Dominant Factor
BEFORE extending the application of the Keyline beyond the
first simple Keyline of a valley and its uses as a cultivation
guide, a discussion of soil and of cultivation methods is
undertaken in this chapter. This forms a basis for the
presentation of the Keyline methods of progressive soil
Prior to the introduction of the mouldboard plough one of the
great problems of agriculture arose from farmers' difficulties
in controlling the unwanted growth on fertile soil. The rich
agricultural land obtained by clearing virgin forest areas or
breaking up the natural fertile grasslands were hard to hold
from the exuberant growth of vegetation. The growth made it
impossible for the farmer to crop large areas.
The mouldboard plough, by turning over the soil and burying
the unwanted growth gave the farmer better control. He could
then hold and crop larger areas of land.
The advantage of the new power cultivation which was later
introduced, lay in the further increased speed to control the
unwanted growth. Rubbish was turned under to produce a "clean"
After the earlier slow work to control this growth the new
implement inspired a fetish for "cleanness" and "fineness" of
cultivation. This fine seed-bed, almost universally acclaimed,
produced bumper crops year after year and the rich fertile
earth showed little evidence of fertility losses over long
This type of cultivation and the other farming and grazing
methods however, were generally destroying natural fertility
much faster than the crops which were profitably extracting
some of it.
Eventually, when erosion became a serious menace, some nations
undertook an inventory of their soil losses and found that the
figures were staggering.
Gigantic efforts were needed to arrest these colossal losses
Fertile soil was not being washed away, but only those soils
which had already lost or were then rapidly losing their
fertility were on the move.
Fertile soil was built originally by processes of absorption,
growth and decay, and such soil resists erosion. A change of
methods from those that extract fertility from the soil to
methods that absorb fertility into the soil is the only way to
overcome the erosion problem. A positive change must be made
from Extraction Fertility farming to Absorption Fertility
The first requirement, already stated, is the retention of all
rainfall in the land for the production of fertility, and not
methods to "safely" allow water to leave the property.
It is economically unsound merely to prevent erosion losses of
Soil fertility can be built back into the soil in a positive
manner so much faster than the natural fertility was lost,
that little need be done from the negative standpoint of
controlling erosion. The best methods of soil development are
the surest means of erosion control. Continuance of these
methods will quickly produce as good, if not better, soil than
that which originally existed.
While these methods are being followed, even from the first
year, better farm yields will result. Absorption, growth and
decay make fertile soil, and the factors which produce the
maximum growth and decay can be controlled in farming
practices. The needs of the farmer are satisfied at the same
There is little evidence anywhere in nature to support the
"take and put" theory of farming where farmers are taught to
"put back" into the soil each year what they "take out" in
crops. So much of what is taken out is composed of materials
that are available in unlimited supply from the sun, air and
moisture -- moisture alone requiring conservation -- that if
farmers cease to "mine" the top inches of the soil and farm
the land, little if anything else need be put back.
Fertilisers should be used when they are necessary, but they
are rarely the "first" need. This is true of most of our
farming and grazing lands.
Correct cultivation is a means of progressively improving soil
structure and soil fertility, thereby developing a greater
depth of fertile soil. Better crop production is incidental to
The mechanics of the process of soil development whereby
Nature built up the great fertile soil belts of the earth are
now reasonably well understood by the farmers. Good writers
have made of the process an absorbing and fascinating story.
Some see in it a miraculous efficiency and give estimates of
the time required to build one inch of fertile soil -- varying
from a few hundred years to ten thousand.
If the natural process is efficient and the time estimates of
even a few hundred years are correct, there is little that
could be done by us in the production of soil. However,
nature's methods do not take time into any serious account,
whereas to us "time" is all important.
The processes which developed natural fertile soil are capable
of control and tremendous acceleration. The dead stalks of
plants, slowly laid down by nature loosely on the land
surface, decay. This is one fertility process which is capable
of acceleration. Each time decaying vegetable matter dries,
decay temporarily ceases and fertility processes are slowed
down. Processes of decay are increased when moisture is
present. This decay, to all intents and purposes, is
Man and his machines can stimulate decay and growth
When vegetation is stirred into the aerated part of the soil,
decay continues for a longer period. Moisture remains longer
to supply the needs of decay.
Every process and activity in the improvement of soil can be
controlled and increased by the farmer, to the continual
betterment of his soil. Not all natural soils are fertile --
far from it. Where suitable moisture, heat conditions and
minerals exist, fertile soil develops in time. There is a
certain progression in the development of soil in nature. The
growth and decay of primary and simple forms of plant life --
eventually create conditions suitable for the growth of better
crops and grasses.
Through the lack of some essential, this process toward the
development of fertile soil will cease, or slow down. Thus
poor natural soils exist in many areas.
Vast areas of these poor soils of nature can be made fertile
and productive, by supplying the needs to complete their full
cycle of development.
Natural shortages of vital minerals often can be remedied
Keyline road and timber strip with pasture areas above and
below. This pasture strip, which is now nearly two years old,
was formerly the poorest land on "Nevallan". Note that the
timber strip swings to the right around the hill. The tops of
the trees can be seen through the tree line. The trees have
grown spectacularly during the last 18 months from the
conserved moisture held by Keyline cultivation above the
Rainfall or other moisture sources can be controlled
efficiently, to promote more rapid growth and decay. Great
improvement will be made in many of these soils in a year or
two. New plants and grasses that will continue and complete a
cycle of high fertility can be introduced.
Plants draw their sustenance mostly from the products of
decay, from and with moisture contained as a water film in the
"pore" space of the soil. Generally, maximum pore space
promotes maximum growth by the greater availability of pore
space moisture. The pore space is multiplied by increasing the
supply of vegetation for decay and for the production of
These vitally important factors are increased also by the
correct mechanical mixing of vegetation into the surface soil.
Correct aeration of the deeper soil and subsoil will
progressively convert these to deeper fertile soil.
Some soil scientists estimate that there are 70 tons of living
organisms and other life in an acre of fertile soil. These
organism generally work towards man's health and well-being.
The importance of fourteen five-ton truck loads of microbes in
an acre is overshadowed completely by a sheep or two to the
acre. The sheep or cattle obviously need constant care, but
surely this other "livestock" warrants some conscious thought
when it is so vital. All the elements of growth are made
available to us by the various processes of the life cycles of
this "life in the soil". Soil management can reduce this
dynamic force to a low ebb, or tremendously stimulate its
Fertile topsoil and even very poor soil can be treated as a
yeast. Fed and cared for, it increases. Starved and
asphyxiated, it dies.
Processes of decay are the multiplication of soil life. These
processes initiate or commence in the presence of moisture,
air and heat. All three are necessary. This suggests that a
starting point in soil development should be a critical
examination of farming practices as to their effect on these
Past cultivation habits have destroyed soil fertility to the
stage where vast quantities of once valuable soil have been
lost by destructive erosion.
Pounding and pulverising, turning and slicing implements have
all interfered with and reduced pore space in fertile soil.
Soil suffered too much cultivation each time it was worked.
Extremely fine "seed-beds" are still produced on some farms,
almost as if the crop in its growth was expected to devour
every fine soil particle.
Too fine a cultivation destroys the soil's structure, smothers
and reduces soil life, thus degenerating the art of soil
management into a bandit-life process of fertility extraction.
Soil fertility need not be "extracted" or destroyed to produce
good crops. Crop production is properly a part of an important
method in the development of better soil.
Cultivation can be either the mammoth destroyer of soil
fertility or the greatest single means of improving and even
the creating of more fertile soil.
An understanding of the structure and condition of naturally
fertile soil and an appreciation of just what is happening, or
has already happened, on some major soil areas will indicate
logical means of improvement.
Fertile soil is loose, absorbent and pleasant smelling. It is
dark in colour caused by decay in the production of humus. It
receives rain quickly and allows it to penetrate deeply. It
holds moisture in pore spaces which are found in and around
every particle of decaying material and in humus as well as
around the mineral particles of the soil. Moisture dries out
of fertile soil slowly from the effect of the highly
insulating structure of its surface. Deep soil and subsoil
moisture is protected from the drying effects of sun and
There are no definite horizons to the top soil, deep soil and
subsoil; one merges gradually into the other and all are
subject to a gentle stirring action from the larger forms of
soil life and from the action of deep roots which bring
nutrients to the surface. There is no sharply defined plant
root zone in natural fertile soil. Shallow, medium and deep
root growths mingle. Root decay acts to aerate the soil to an
appreciable depth via the cavities left by the roots after
The fluids, acids and gases of the fertile soil act
continuously on the deeper mineral particles of the subsoil
and rock below, converting these to forms which are later
available to plants, and so improve and deepen the soil.
Soil life flourishes according to the varying condition of
food supply -- moisture, air, minerals and decaying. plant
life. The whole body of the fertile soil is teeming with
dynamic energy -- growth and decay is continuous and
Cultivation that is highly successful mechanically in
controlling soil for crops also has had the effect of
separating the body of the soil into sections and horizons.
Only the topsoil has been used to yield crops by these
extraction fertility methods.
Replenishment of the very small amount of minerals required
from the subsoil has been rendered ineffective. Eventually
this manifests itself in top soil and crop deficiencies no
matter how fertile the soil originally. These soil
deficiencies reach man and affect his health through
Plow soles or hard pans have been formed at the cultivation
depth by implements that exert a positive pressure on the soil
at this depth to enable them to operate effectively. Plow
soles resist the penetration of moisture and air. Surface soil
above these plow soles becomes waterlogged in wet seasons.
Deeper soil and subsoil dies from asphyxiation.
When this happens plant roots have nothing to gain by
penetrating this dead soil. These are all vital factors in
maintaining and building soil fertility.
Vegetation is controlled by such soil turning implements by
simply burying the vegetation in a sandwich. This layer of
turned-under vegetation acts to separate the soil further. It
may remain dry, resisting decay and. insulating the top soil
from the deeper soil moisture, thus making crops more and more
dependent on well-distributed rainfall. Partial crop failure
becomes more common. Full decay and growth are both
interrupted. A too fine surface working of such primary
cultivation further reduces the effect of rainfall by
self-sealing tendencies. This will retard the infiltration
rate of rainfall to such an extent that water will often be
eroding some of this soil before all of it is wet to a depth
of three inches. Finely cultivated heavy clay soil will very
quickly form a sealed surface .during heavy rains.
If mouldboard plows are used for deeper cultivation total crop
failures often result. By deeply burying the surface soil, the
soil life is destroyed. Soil of poor structure and fertility
is turned up to the surface. Considerable time is required to
make it again productive.
Surface chopping and slicing implements, if over-cultivation
is avoided, are much less destructive to soil fertility. Good
management and such implements can start a cycle of soil
improvement. They do tend, however, to separate the soil into
sections by their even bottom-depth cultivation, and the
danger, already mentioned, of destroying the completeness of
the soil is ever present.
With all the other abundant ingredients of fertile soil, what
depth of the land is available to the farmer to supply the
very small amount of minerals necessary? It is certainly not
the alleged six or nine inches of top soil, vast quantities of
which have been removed by erosion. The depth of soil
available to supply the small mineral requirements extends to
at least the full depth penetrated by the roots of the large
The whole deep root system of trees, occupying as they do
usually a much greater area below the ground than the trunk
and branches above, are continuously bringing in all the
necessary minerals to the trunk, branches and leaves.
Some of these minerals gathered by the roots and contained in
the ever-falling leaves, twigs and small branches are
available continually to improve the soil. Trees are a part of
the fertility of the soil. Some need to be "left", or grown in
a logically planned manner, to serve the soil and protect the
Originally, large areas of land when only partly cleared,
maintained healthy stock. Now, some years after complete
timber destruction, it is unable to support healthy growth
without added trace elements such as copper, zinc, cobalt,
etc. No doubt these were once supplied to the surface by the
growth of timber as described.
Deep-rooted plants and grasses will all root deeper if the
soil is developed fully, and will bring minerals toward the
The importance of preserving this complete process to the full
depth of the soil -- which includes top, deep and subsoil --
has generally been entirely overlooked. Implements that tend
to separate the whole body of the soil into defined sections
are destructive to soil fertility. The all-over, even-bottom
depth cultivation, whether shallow or deeper, destroys this
However, it takes an appreciable time to destroy fertile soil.
By wrong cultivation methods, farmers have been able to
produce vast quantities of grain for generations during the
process of fertility extraction.
Now this soil has lost its former structure and its capacity
to absorb fertility. Its destruction is much more rapid.
Usually only three inches or a little more of the earth was
used, while the basic materials for the improvement of
fertility existed both above and below in limitless
There is a general belief that the supply of food will be --
almost is -- the limiting factor in the ultimate population of
the earth. It is likely -- because of the tremendous supply of
food potential in and above the earth and oceans -- that some
factor, other than food supply will first impose the limit.
There has been available sufficient knowledge of soil to
produce small areas and amounts of highly fertile soil for a
long time. What is of particular importance now, in the
further development of agricultural Australia, is a means of
inducing or producing fertile soil over large areas of land
quickly and profitably. It is only necessary to maintain the
soil in a condition to absorb all the vast fertility potential
of the sun, air and rainfall. If the rainfall is absorbed into
the earth, the store of minerals, chemicals and gases it
carries always is filtered out of it and retained in the soil.
While oxygen -- and rainfall is practically a saturated
solution of oxygen -- is probably needed by our soils more
than any fertiliser the farmer uses at present, there is a
considerable variety of other fertility factors taken out of
the air by rainfall. Some plants that actually grow without
contact with the earth have been found to contain a
comparatively large amount of element in their ash-element of
the "trace" variety -- which they must, somehow, extract from
air and rainfall.
KEYLINE Absorption-fertility cultivation techniques are so
different in their effects on the land cultivated from those
generally employed that their introduction on farming land
will be considered as a "conversion" of land to these new
principles. The first year in which these new principles
operate is called "Conversion Year".
The "conversion" cultivation has as its object the maximum
possible improvement in soil structure, soil fertility and
increased soil depth which can be obtained from this
conversion. For this reason the first application of the
technique will be different in some respects from the
continuous later process. The conversion stage is to be
profitable, much more so than extraction fertility methods.
The continuous processes of progressive soil development are
profitable both from the increase in quality and quantity of
production and in the capital value of the improving land.
Soil erosion is not considered as a problem in the process,
simply because it is cured incidentally. There is no problem
of erosion when its cure or solution is made profitable to
those directly concerned.
Ordinary crop land is discussed first.
The considerations of the last chapter indicate quite clearly
some important details of the type of cultivation that is
The first requirement is minimum surface cultivation, mixing
whatever vegetation is available into the few top inches of
the soil. Some subsoil or deep soil is to be broken to provide
capacity for rapid moisture absorption. With oxygen and the
other vital elements absorbed, some of the subsoil is
converted to live soil. This deeper soil is only broken, and
none of it is brought to the surface. The deeper cultivation
is to leave an uneven bottom, not all cut out clean at the
maximum depth of cultivation. The cultivation is to again
unite the soil into a complete structure -- not a topsoil
divorced from the deep soil by a compacted layer.
The surface of this cultivation is rough, rather than fine, in
order to resist the sealing effect of heavy rain and to allow
the rainfall to penetrate quickly and deeply.
The finer materials of this surface cultivation lie below the
level of this rough surface. Surface wind velocity is thus
reduced -- moisture losses by evaporation are lowered.
The deeper cultivation conforms to the Keyline cultivation,
which holds excessive rain longer on the land and permits more
Rainfall is quickly absorbed into cultivated poor land, making
it wet and heavy on the rough, uneven bottom of the
cultivation. The heavy wet soil is effectively knitted to the
land and resists substantial water flow if it occurs.
New Keyline Absorption-fertility cultivation is practically
erosion Proof; within a year or two of the resulting
improvement to the soil, it is certainly so.
The maximum depth of this conversion year cultivation requires
some serious consideration.
In so-called shallow or thin soils, this cultivation is
restricted to a depth that can be converted successfully to an
improved structure by the aid of the fertility in the top
soil. Considering the top fertile soil as a yeast, it is
likely that too deep a cultivation could restrict the rate of
soil development. This happens if a large amount of vegetation
is not available for stirring into the surface cultivation.
This type of soil rarely has a large amount of vegetation
The too deep cultivation of sticky clay subsoil is waste of
time and money. It will seal immediately rain falls. There is
generally little purpose and no profit in cultivating to
depths that cannot be held by definite soil improvement.
A good general depth guide for conversion year cultivation is
double the depth of previous ploughing for crop productions,
that is, approximately eight inches deep and in the poorer
soils seven inches deep.
The means and the implements available for conversion year
cultivation are restricted greatly by two factors. The lines
of Keyline cultivation cannot be followed satisfactorily by
mouldboards or disc plows, nor are these implements suitable
for the deeper cultivation that must keep the subsoil under
the cultivated surface soil. They also produce the destructive
They can both be made to do the surface cultivation reasonably
well, while another implement of the tine type, with wider
spaced rows than the usual farm implements, could complete the
deeper cultivation immediately following. Some tine shapes
will keep the subsoil down.
Mouldboard plows, with the boards removed, give a satisfactory
cultivation, if the final deep run is done with some shears
removed to keep these furrows wider apart.
Scarifiers or tillers both give a satisfactory surface
cultivation to 4 inches, but the tine spacing and design
render them unsatisfactory for the final full depth run.
Rippers will follow the lines of Keyline cultivation for the
final working. It is unnecessary in surface cultivation to do
this. The resulting cultivation is satisfactory but the cost
with any rigid implement is much higher than it need be.
The Graham Chisel-type Plow is the ideal implement for
conversion year cultivation. The following details of Keyline
Absorption-fertility cultivation both for conversion year and
the cultivations in following years, are given for use with
The standard shank row spacings of the Graham Plow are 12
inches apart, approximately double the spacing of other farm
cultivating implements. The Graham Plow is equipped with
tines, spikes or chisels two inches wide, which are set at
12-inch row spacings.
With a suitably power matched tractor and Graham, set the
plow's depth to enable the tractor to operate without
labouring at a good speed. Five miles per hour is recommended
if the surface is suitable for this speed. When stumps are
encountered, reduce the speed to 3 miles per hour. The "first
working" should be 3 to 4-1/2 inches deep. Large clods may
result from a first cultivation which is too deep and could
necessitate some special extra work to break them down. Plow
three or four parallel runs completely around the area,
marking out the area for cultivation clearly.
The paddock area is then "cut out" on this first run by
plowing backwards and forwards, turning in the series of
parallel runs first made without necessarily reducing speed on
the turns. The Graham will follow as fast as the tractor can
Plow a second complete run immediately at a long angle to the
first with the plow now set deeper and travelling at the same
speed. It is more economical usually to regulate the increased
depth to suit the speed and not the speed to suit the depth.
This second plowing will sometimes give a suitable surface
"break-out" and the necessary depth of seven to eight inches.
If this is so, the second cultivation run will follow the
Keyline cultivation principle of Chapter 2.
Usually three fast cultivation runs using two-inch chisels at
twelve-inch spacing are, necessary for perfect conversion year
cultivation in poor compacted soils. In this case the depth of
the last run is set at seven or eight inches, as already
This simple Keyline conversion year cultivation will commence
a cycle of soil fertility that can be carried forward to
greater soil improvement and will produce a better than usual
crop at the same time. It will also be effective in holding
the soil against erosion.
This fast and low cost cultivation will start to improve soil
immediately adequate rainfall is supplied. The natural
processes of decay will, at once, go into action.
Poor heavy soil, that is soil low in humus content, should be
watched closely after heavy rain against a possible surface
sealing. If this is apparent the area is given a one-run
Keyline cultivation immediately the soil is sufficiently dry.
The soil will improve only with adequate air. This first year
is one of destiny for this soil.
If a crop has already been sown, it is still often advisable
to aerate the sealed surface soil when it is dry enough by
this one-run cultivation. The spikes should be spaced at
24-inch intervals for this aeration cultivation.
The health of the soil, the progressive development of
structure, fertility and soil depth, is of infinitely greater
importance to the farmer than any one crop. This outlook will,
however, result in better crops all the time. Even a crop
newly out of the ground and partly destroyed by a cultivation
to aerate the sealed soil will usually yield better for this
Conversion year cultivation of poor soil is completed by not
more than three fast workings, each becoming progressively
deeper. The last working, which is seven or eight inches deep,
is the only one which follows the Keyline cultivation
principle. Spikes are two inches wide and the spacings between
the rows are 12 inches.
The increased moisture of conversion cultivation will continue
decay processes longer and thus obviate one of the
difficulties of stubble mulch farming with disc implements,
that of having too little moisture available for rapid and
continuous stubble decomposition.
The changes which will take place in this soil which has been
converted to Keyline Absorption-fertility should be watched by
the farmer. Only absence of rain will restrict the working of
the yeast-like process of soil development.
Examination of the underneath cultivation by removing a couple
of square feet of the plowed soil will disclose the deeper
chisel final furrows that knit the soil to the earth.
Make an examination a few weeks after the first good rain has
fallen -- see the change -- smell the soil.
Again when a crop is well grown - -examine the deeper broken
subsoil -- note its further changed condition. Fertility
development in the surface inches will be apparent and the
deeper broken subsoil will be changing into good soil.
When the crop is stripped, examine the condition of the
subsoil again to get a cue to the depth of cultivation to be
followed for the next crop.
If a change from the subsoil to a soil is definite, second
year work should be a little deeper. The increase should be an
inch or two at most. This broken subsoil is to be converted to
soil, a little each year -- progressively.
In subsequent years, following a successful Keyline conversion
year, a single run on the Keyline cultivation will complete
the plowing. Now spikes or chisels with weed knives attached
are used. These weed knives operate three inches below the
surface, mixing growth and trash correctly into the soil for
rapid decay. At the same time the chisels operate at the full
cultivation depth, properly aerating the whole body of soil.
These weed knives, which are adjustable in relation to the
2-inch chisel depth, permit a progressively deeper
year-by-year cultivation, with the knives operating at a fixed
depth below the surface. The uneven furrowed type bottom and
the "completeness' of all the soil is preserved.
The rate at which beneficial decay will take place in the soil
will vary with soils and climatic conditions. The rate of
decay accelerates as a positive new soil fertility develops.
Decay of the incorporated vegetation of conversion year
cultivation will be rapid given sufficient moisture. Decay in
subsequent years will be much faster as the active life in the
soil has been built up enormously as a result of this
conversion to absorption-fertility.
For a short time decay does tend to rob growth of some of its
requirements. Both decay and growth require among other
elements, moisture, air and nitrogen. A crop sown immediately
in conversion cultivated land may first grow weak and yellowed
from the lack of nitrogen which has been absorbed temporarily
in the processes of decay. With adequate moisture, air and
heat, nitrogen will be available to the crop in a few weeks.
The. crop will respond with a rapid growth of healthy green
A rapid fertility gain and almost weedless farming on this
crop land can be secured by cultivating immediately the crop
has been stripped and again each time a growth of grass and
weeds reaches its "full green" stage prior to. the weeds
seeding. The use of the chisel and weed knives combination
tends to germinate all seeds together, while "soil turning"
methods of cultivation do not. The "soil turning" implements
bury some seeds in a dry layer of vegetation, which prevents
their germination until a later cultivation, thereby assisting
the continuance of weed growth.
Weedless farming. may disclose that the present row spacing of
seeders, which are close together to enable crops to partly
choke weed growth, is too close for best yields.
There is a growing well-informed body of opinion among
practical Australian farmers, that wider apart seeder
row-spacings will give better grain yields when weeds are not
The sowing of seed into conversion-year cultivation requires
some little changes from the old orthodox habits.
It is of particular significance that sowing be done in such a
way that this new condition of the soil is preserved as much
as possible. If an ordinary grain combine is used, the
cultivating tines, both the front and rear rows are removed
permanently, use being made only of the two planting rows. The
soil will continue to be in a suitable condition for the rapid
absorption of rainfall. The use of all the tine rows on a
combine may so "fine-up" the soil that it will cause puddling
and washing. The use of the combine with all the cultivating
tines removed will permit rougher and trashier ground to be
Planting depth for grain will vary also, but generally seed
should be planted into the moisture zone and not shallow-sown
with complete dependence on later rain for germination.
Soils of good structure and fertility may be cultivated
directly with the chisel and weed knife combination. If
surface cultivation ever appears to be too fine, use the
Cultivation of soil in very low rainfall areas should be
accomplished by a shallow surface cultivation followed by a
final Keyline cultivation with the chisels two feet apart. An
overall cultivation that is too deep on these soils will tend
to lower the moisture zone too much for best yields. As the
fertility of the soil increases humus will protect the
moisture and hold it at a more consistent level.
Once a normal rainfall season follows, or good rain out of
season has fallen on Keyline converted land, the moisture
horizon will be more dependable. Continued year by year,
Keyline Absorption-fertility cultivation will keep adequate
crop moisture available for longer and longer periods into
dryer times. No doubt later, on this "Keyland", one good
season's rain will produce two years good crops.
The low cost and fast operation of this method of cultivation
Conversion-year cultivation will usually cost less in time and
money than extraction-fertility methods. Following conversion
-year, costs are about one-third only of old cultivation
Deep fertile soil, then, is built up for crop land first by
conversion year cultivation with an, increase in the depth of
the chisel penetration each subsequent year. The weed knives
operate at approximately three inches below the surface. In
from three to five years soil depth to the limit of the
Graham's 16-inch is formed.
When this depth is reached, a further "wave of fertility" may
be induced in this soil by reducing the penetration depth of
the chisel back to approximately nine inches and adjusting the
weed knives to operate deeper under the surface.
Instead of three inches, as used in the first cycle of
increasing depths, they are used five or six inches below the
surface. For the following two to four years increase the
operating depth of the chisels one to three inches each year,
but adjust the weed knives to keep them five or six inches
below the surface.
The effect of this second series of increasing depth
cultivations and increased weed knife depth is expected to add
a greater depth of intensely fertile soil. By incorporating or
mixing vegetation into a greater depth of top soil this should
be achieved. The soil should now be in a condition to "take"
this somewhat deeper mixing of vegetation, whereas in the
first years it would have been largely lost as a fertility
gain. At the end of this second cycle -- originally poor soils
in reasonable rainfall areas may rival the most fertile soils
left on the face of the earth. I say "may" - -I do not know --
Soil Improvement on Pasture Lands
0N grazing properties generally, compaction of the soil has
developed from the tramping of stock. This tends to limit the
pore space and the free movement of oxygen in the soil. These
soils change as distinct zones are formed by compacted
horizons below the shallow grass root depth. The natural
movements throughout the whole of the soil becomes more
restricted, less deep mineral material finds its way to the
topsoil to replenish it, and the soil gradually becomes
impoverished of both humus and minerals. An unnatural division
of the soil into layers is made. Only the shallow top soil,
with its rapidly diminishing minerals, is available.
Good grass species tend to run out, as the whole pasture
deteriorates; less rain is absorbed; soil losses may occur;
valleys become too moist and sour or they erode; hills become
dryer and less productive.
This pasture now needs two things that it has lost and which
can be supplied by proper cultivation, enabling its processes
to be stimulated again. They are air and water; or simply
absorption capacity which will enable the soil to absorb and
hold the rain that falls on it. Although the soil cannot be
put back in perfect condition in one operation, it can be
progressively improved to a condition usually better than it
Single working Keyline cultivation with a depth of penetration
just through the top soil into the compacted zone is a logical
first means to supply both the air and moisture required.
Excellent results will follow this work completed in the
autumn. Another suitable time is probably a few weeks before
each locality's best rainfall season.
Spike or chisel furrows 12 inches apart and at the depth
previously suggested, break or crack the continuous horizon of
compacted material that now divides the full depth of this
soil. With aeration and quick moisture penetration the
wholeness or completeness of all the soil's depths is brought
back progressively. The decay of dead and dying root growth
again adds rapidly to soil fertility by the formation of humus
below the pasture.
Some pasture grass is destroyed in this process by being
uprooted, and further pasture becomes temporarily unavailable
to stock by being partly clod and sod covered. Within a very
short period a much improved pasture, both in quality and
quantity, is again available. The soil is coming to life
It may be appropriate at this time also to introduce new
species of clover or grasses to assist the development
further. The use of lime or fertiliser is often of
considerable advantage in commencing a new cycle of fertility
in the poor soils.
It is often highly profitable to conduct a two- or three-year
plan for the improvement of a very poor soil paddock.
First Year -- One Keyline cultivation working approximately
4-1/2 inches deep with spike spacing 12 inches apart is given
in the autumn.
Second Year -- Another Keyline cultivation working five to
seven inches deep with spike spacing 24 inches apart.
Third Year -- A further Keyline cultivation working seven to
ten inches deep with spike spacing 36 inches apart.
Stock is moved off the area immediately prior to each Keyline
cultivation working and not returned until some weeks after
the first rain has fallen on the area.
The clods quickly become improved in structure and are partly
distributed by the stock over the surface, thus forming a
valuable top-dressing to promote further absorption, decay and
fertility. Careful stocking of this treated pasture can make
it still more effective. Soils so treated are in a perfect
condition, especially if frosts have operated on the clods,
for rapid response to all other means of increasing soil
fertility and yield.
Rotational grazing, strip grazing and smear harrow treatment,
by greatly increasing the effectiveness of the use of the
fertility potential of the animal droppings, are outstanding
in their fertility effect on this treated soil.
By this means poor shallow soils will not only become more
fertile, but will be converted profitably into areas of
considerably increased soil depth.
If the depth of fertile soil is doubled, the profit margin is
increased many times.
The aim of progressive development by progressive increase in
penetration depths for maximum absorption-fertility is of
February pasture on Nevallan" (not irrigated). In the picture
with me is Ginger, one of our pets. Ginger was badly burned in
the bush fire on "Yobarnie" in 1944. Pasture -- lucerne,
rhodes, clovers, cocksfood -- is under two years old.
The drastic deep ripping or subsoiling of pastures on the
poorer thin soils, while probably increasing first year yield,
will all too often be disappointing in yield for following
years. Deep ripping with rigid implements is very costly and
throws up clods which are too big. Heavy soil will not remain
open to this depth but will reseal with the first good rain.
There is no profit in taking depth that cannot be held. The
topsoil fertility will fail to produce a rapid soil change in
the subsoil if it is given too much depth of subsoil to
"convert". Again consider the topsoil as a yeast and do not
subject it to too great a dilution--as may take place in the
case of overall deep ripping or subsoiling.
The present methods of subsoiling crop land, where deep
sub-soilers rip the soil to 24 inches deep, and surface
cultivating implements follow, is wrong. The fine surface
cultivation of deep subsoiling largely offsets the benefits of
the moisture and air absorption capacity of the subsoiling.
All the benefits of subsoiling, without its usual
disadvantages and high cost, are obtained in the final deeper
run of Keyline cultivation. Extra depth can be obtained by
increasing the cultivating row spaces.
The object of Keyline cultivating below the soil into the
subsoil is always the improvement of soil fertility and the
conversion of this subsoil into more fertile soil. It can be
done most profitably and economically only as a progressive
Compacted soils of all types have lost the natural fertility
potential that is available to all soils of good structure.
The continuous decay and humus formation from the considerable
amount of grass roots material which dies each year is almost
Poor compacted pasture land usually has available to it every
ingredient for a rapid fertility increase except oxygen and
water, and these two are prevented from operating fully.
Minerals of all necessary kinds are usually only inches below
the poor pasture. The urine and dung of the animals are
available in sufficient quantity. Materials for aerobic decay
and humus formation exist in the grass roots, all of which
have not been completely lost.
One low cost fast run with spikes or chisels on the Keyline
principle makes available all the ingredients for a new
fertility. Within a few weeks after rain on this cultivation,
the return of life to the soil and pasture can be seen in the
rapidly changing structure of the soil.
Whenever pasture land shows sign of surface sealing or
compaction it should be treated in this way. If and when the
second cultivation is required it is made deeper. The same
high speed and low cost is obtained by increasing the spike or
chisel row spacings. Actual soil depth is increased this way.
On the slopes below "Nevallan" Homestead. "Keyline
Cultivation" for soil and pasteure improtement a few days
after the first shower of rain. The area shown in the lower
half of the picture was originally pasture sown on shallow
disking. After this one Keyline cultivation, pasture growth
As soil becomes more and more fertile, less and less aeration
by cultivation is necessary. Reasonably well managed highly
fertile soil will look after itself. It will absorb all the
available factors of fertility and aerate itself. It will
preserve its own "life", including the beneficial earthworms.
Fertile soil and pasture absorb moisture rapidly, store it
deeply and the soil aerates itself.
Other plant nutrient as well as oxygen and water reach the
earth in the rainfall. These are largely absorbed into the
soil and held if the soil is properly treated.
When poor pasture land is to be completely cultivated to kill
all growth for the replanting of a new pasture, it is treated
as described for conversion year cultivation.
Grass seeds are sown into this cultivation with outstanding
results by seeding with an ordinary grain combine with the
cultivating tines removed. For even sowing and better
germination, a flow medium of some kind mixed with the grass
seed is a great advantage. Sow into the moisture zone some
time after rain has fallen.
If the soil is of poor structure -- low in humus -- watch it
against possible surface sealing after heavy rain. If it seals
give it one working when it is dry enough. Follow the Keyline
cultivation with spike spacings 24 inches apart.
If pasture tends to run out something is definitely wrong.
Apart from overstocking or indifferent stocking management,
the cause will be moisture wastage -- shortage of oxygen -- or
both. If pasture land is assisted by correct cultivation to
absorb moisture and air it will continue to improve in
fertility and productiveness and will not run out.
To-day most pastures tend to deteriorate, and these declining
pastures are ploughed up, a crop or two taken and re-sown
again to grass and legumes. The poorest pasture paddock is
usually selected to be used in this way.
If crops are to be taken on pasture land only good pastures
should be used.
Any farmer would be reluctant now to take this course, but if
all his pastures were good, he may select his best pasture
paddock for cropping. Any three-year-old pasture should be
good, and improving. The newly sown pasture will probably be
the lowest yielding, but will be improving rapidly with the
soil fertility. The farmer will select his best soil and
pasture for his crops and so allow time for his newer and
poorer pasture to improve with the soil before they in turn
come up for cropping.
Some pastures may need Keyline cultivation for fertility by
absorption each year for two years, and need the treatment
again in three years, then five or more years later.
As both the soil and pasture improve, better grasses may be
introduced with any Keyline cultivation.
An improving soil will more truly indicate its requirements in
minerals or trace elements -- should these be necessary --
than a soil that is being forced to yield by one or more of
the popular methods of extraction fertility.
There are numerous methods and techniques for pasture
improvement, some good, some very bad.
Pasture improvement can be obtained -- temporarily at least --
by more efficient methods of extracting the remaining
fertility of the soil. It can be secured properly and
permanently only by methods that primarily improve soil
structure, fertility and depth. It is wrong to use chemical
fertilisers only to improve pastures. A fertiliser, if used,
should be used in such a way as directly to improve the soil.
This improved soil will give an improved pasture, thus
commencing a cycle of soil fertility, permanently improving
If fertilisers cannot be used on soil apparently requiring
them to assist directly in "triggering-off" this new cycle of
soil fertility, the soil is much better off without the
Soils that do require the use of fertiliser also usually need,
and much more urgently, the application of the principles of
If the soil is very low in humus, the first full green growth
on this soil should be plowed into it. This will start the
cycles of fertility and increasing yields. Fertilise to
improve soil and depend on improved soil only for increased
The recent enthusiasm for pasture improvement in Australia has
unfortunately emphasised the wrong word. "Soil improvement" is
the only real basis for long-term pasture improvement.
It is more than likely, indeed almost certain, that the
introduction of new grasses and fertiliser to increase rapidly
the stock-carrying capacity of poor soil, is providing the
farmer with another method of extracting the fertility of the
soil. The soil must always be considered first. Increase
absorption, manufacture -- humus under the pasture, improve
the structure of the soil, increase soil "life", then the
improved grasses will readily assist in the full development
of soil fertility and produce abundant pastures.
It is fully recognised, however, that some methods and
techniques have produced outstanding pastures.
Disc implements have on occasions been used exclusively, and
have improved soil and pasture on soil that had lost its
condition and some of its fertility. The shallow disc plowing
into the soil of crops of weeds and later sowing pasture
grasses by the methods of broadcasting or "direct-drop" and
then harrowing, may give an outstanding pasture for a few
By improving top soil fertility, actual improvement of soil
depth may take place very slowly, but the pastures tend to
Such pasture treated by the Keyline method for soil and
pasture improvement will produce rapid and permanent soil and
Very fertile soils on occasions require Keyline cultivation.
After big floods recede from farming and grazing land there is
usually striking evidence of the damage caused to the soil by
waterlogging. The soil has been partly killed by too much
water. It is literally "dying-for-air". Pastures which grow
out of this soil are not healthy stock food, although the
grass may be growing well. It is the type of food suitable for
the hordes of pests that feed on the products of infertile or
"sour" soils. These pests locate this food and devour it as
they breed in countless millions. They may "foul" the soil to
such an extent that stock will not graze what may remain. With
the infestation, weeds often grow in profusion.
This soil needs Keyline aeration cultivation immediately it is
dry enough. The "sickness' is then cured and the soil will be
almost immune to these pests. A fast working of the land with
tines spaced at 12 or 24 inches apart at a depth of four to
five inches is all that may be necessary to bring this soil
back to a healthy state. Deeper cultivation depth on the wider
spacing could be considered.
Disc implements and mouldboard plows are not recommended
because they are unsuitable for following the lines of Keyline
cultivation. They do not promote rapid soil improvement and
are incapable of the correct deeper cultivation.
Mixed growths of vine and rough grass may be given one shallow
run with a disc implement and immediately followed with the
spiked implements. Keyline cultivation must always be
An outstanding pair of implements for soil improvement
particularly where the growth is heavy and matted, is the
Mulch Mower and the Graham Plow.
The Mulch Mower can be used also to the great benefit of the
soil any time pasture growth is high and not required for
immediate stocking or fodder conservation.
Common Keylines and Keyline Land Units
FROM the limited application of the Keyline of one valley as
illustrated on Maps 1 and 2 and discussed in Chapters 1 and 2,
we now consider the next step -- the extensions of the
Each valley will have its Keypoint and Keyline. Where, by the
extensions of the Keyline levels -- either on a true contour
or with a slight fall -- the one Keyline serves two or more
valleys, this line becomes a "Common Keyline". It is simply
one line of levels that forms the Keyline of each valley it
Map 3 illustrates an area of steep country with five major
valleys draining towards a rocky creek.
An examination of the first valley indicates that the 180-foot
contour -- the broken line - -is the Keyline of this valley.
The same contour also serves as the Keyline of the second and
third valleys but crosses the fourth valley in a location
obviously not the Keyline of this valley. The 180-foot contour
is the Common Keyline of the first, second and third valleys,
while the 220-foot contour line is the Common Keyline of the
fourth and fifth valleys.
For purposes of cultivation and development these two Common
Keylines control two separate areas. A fence line up the
centre of the ridge between the third and fourth valleys
divides the areas according to Common Keylines. These two
sections are Keyline areas, or complete Keyline cultivation
and development units. They include the areas both above and
below the Keyline.
A Keyline area, then, is an area controlled by a Keyline or a
Common Keyline and may include any number of valley areas. The
Keyline areas of Map 3 may be further subdivided into any
number of paddocks.
Conversion-year cultivation in the case of crop land or
Keyline soil development for pasture improvement is first
completed in the area above the Keyline and parallels the
Keyline up the slope of the land.
If the Keyline is not to form a gently falling water race--it
often does, see "Water Storage", Chapter 7--some other means.
of permanently marking and preserving the Keyline is
A row of stakes first marks the Keyline. Leave a narrow strip
unploughed on each side of the Keyline stakes. On this, brush
or trees will grow along the line during the time the area is
closed to stock for cropping. This line need only be a few
feet wide and it will serve as a permanent marker for the
Without the tree growth on the unploughed Keyline strip, a
marker can be satisfactorily preserved by carefully following
the lines of the previous cultivation.
Another means of permanently marking the Keyline is to use it
as a farm roadway.
IT has already been stated that the greatest available water
storage capacity exists in the soil itself. The association of
Keyline cultivation and this water storage capacity has
already been explained.
If all rain which falls on crop and pasture land could be
absorbed into the soil, there would still be areas remaining
that do shed most of the rain that falls on them. Farm roads
and yards, the homestead and other farm buildings and sheds,
and often main roads, shed considerable quantities of rain.
Conservation of this water for farm use is of the utmost
Whether a farmer realises it or not, he is dealing with forces
that need the full use of engineering planning. A sudden storm
may send 100,000 tons or 500,000 tons of water on to a
1,000-acre area in an hour or two. This huge weight of water
can be controlled and conserved by the farmer to the great
benefit of the land and himself, or it can run largely to
waste, leaving a trail of destruction in its path.
Levels are important factors in any water control and
conservation project. These need to be used to advantage by
the farmer. Contours and other level considerations are basic
land engineering factors. The farmer must know how and when to
The application of Keyline methods requires very little
levelling work, but those levels that it does require are of
On undulating country, dams can usually be located which will
enable the farmer to enlist the forces of gravity to provide
him with water under pressure. This will give him a better
farm, easier work and higher yields. Other things being equal,
the value to a farmer of conserved water is in direct
proportion to the height of the storage. The dams of
potentially greatest value are those in his high country.
New pasture being irrigated by gravity pressure on "Nevallan".
Guideline timber strip forms a permanent market for Keyline
cultivation. The truck in the centre background is travelling
along our Keyline road.
The Keylines, by crossing the valleys at their first main
point of slope flattening, will invariably position the
highest suitable valley storage area for water.
In any plan of general land development, the control of water
is one of the first considerations. At the same time, it is to
be kept in mind that Keyline Absorption-fertility is going to
reduce run-off water very considerably. It may even completely
stop run-off water from farm and pasture paddocks, except in
the rare, but under present conditions, very dangerous period
of general heavy flood rains. With the absorption of what
previously would have been heavy run-off, consideration has to
be given to conserving water from every available source.
With the Keyline positioning the highest suitable dam sites,
it becomes important to locate potential water-shedding areas
above the Keyline.
The Keylines have been illustrated as contour lines in the
discussion on cultivation for the sake of simplicity.
For purposes in connection with the conservation of water in
the Keyline dam, the Keyline itself is a gently falling line
to form a drain or water race to carry water to the dam. The
use of the Keyline, which is now a drain, is still fully
effective as a guide for Keyline cultivation.
It is usually convenient and good practice from most other
viewpoints, to locate the homestead and all farm buildings and
the yards and their attendant roads in the higher country.
From the point of view of full Keyline development, it becomes
a part of planning to do so, in order to secure abundant
run-off water to fill the Keyline dams from these sources.
Wherever it is possible and practical, dams are constructed on
the Keyline in the valleys, and the Keyline itself is pegged
and constructed as a gently falling drain to carry water to
the Keyline Dams.
Keyline dams are constructed with a pipeline through the wall
or through the floor to one side of the centre line of the
valley, so that the full gravity pressure of the conserved
water is available for spray irrigation and other farm
Where areas of land exist that are 50 feet or more vertically
lower than the Keyline, the water from the Keyline dam will
supply effective pressure for irrigation without pumping. This
"line of effective water pressure" suitably forms the top
boundary for the irrigation paddocks. A 4-inch pipe through
the wall, controlled by a 4-inch gate valve, in these
circumstances will control gravity pressure which, often from
a single dam, will effectively operate a comprehensive spray
irrigation and stock-watering system.
Spray irrigation without pumping. The Keyline dam which
provides the water is situated in the hills below the small
cloud in the centre of the picture. The bare area on the right
is located on the site of an old disused road. All land below
the timber line can be spray-irrigated wit4hout pumping costs.
With the use of a 4-inch pipeline, the vertical drop from the
water level to a nearby irrigation area multiplied by 0.4 will
give the approximate pounds pressure available in the spray
line. A vertical fall of 50 feet multiplied by 0.4 gives a
twenty pounds per square inch pressure, which is suitable for
operating most types of spray lines. As the spray line is
moved downhill a little on each "move", there is, of course,
an increase in available pressure.
Referring to Map 4, which exhibits the same land area as Map
3, the Keyline crossings of the valleys are to be considered
as possible dam sites. The sites marked in four of the valleys
could be considered good dam sites. The site of the Keyline
crossing of the fifth valley is not as suitable as the others.
The most valuable water storage site for a Keyline dam is
located in the first valley, as this site has the greatest
area of land below It which Is suitable for irrigation by
gravity sprays. This fact indicates a rule or general formula
for determining the direction of flow of the Keyline when it
is formed by a drain. If the creek or drainage line below a
series of valleys -- as in Map 4 -- has a general fall greater
than five feet per thousand feet -- the fall recommended for
the Keyline drain -- the direction of the Keyline fall follows
that of the creek. When the creek has a flatter fall than
required by the Keyline drain, the drain falls in the
direction opposite that of the creek. This is illustrated by
the shaded area on the map.
The construction of a Keyline dam will often cost considerably
less than a pump and engine installed for spray irrigation.
The Keyline dam, its pipe and valve outlet, will operate the
same sprays with no pumping cost.
This low cost water is used in the general programme of
progressive soil development, and higher yields will be
incidental and automatic to the Keyline Absorption-fertility
The following construction comments should be considered.
Most undulating country is suitable for dam construction if
correct preparation and compaction of the material in the wall
is secured. Fine clay, which is usually considered the best
material for dam bank construction, has its own particular
problem. This material in the wall of the dam will tend to
"jell-up" below the waterline to such an extent that the
weight of the wall above this wet unstable material may
squeeze the material outwards from the wall, thus causing a
central subsidence of the wall which extends down below the
water line. This would result in the water overflowing at this
point and would completely destroy the bank.
In shale country the mixture of shale and clay will give the
best possible material for bank construction.
Before laying in a dam bank, the foundation area of the bank
must be treated first according to the type of country. In
shale country it is necessary to remove only the darker
topsoil material to one side-this can be used later to cover
the bank to obtain a quick growth of grass. This cleared area
is then ripped before the wall filling material is placed on
it. The material for the wall should be placed on in layers of
from 6 to 12 inches thick, so that suitable compaction of the
soil takes place during construction. Bulldozers will give
sufficient compaction usually without the need of further
special compacting implements.
The back of the wall of the dam, that is the side away from
the water, should not be specially compacted. If water seeps
through the compacted front of the wall into the centre, it
must be allowed to get out through the back of the wall,
otherwise it may build up hydrostatic pressure inside the
wall. This could destroy the wall by forcing or breaking the
material from the back of it.
Clean water seeping through a dam wall is usually quite safe,
but a seepage that is discoloured by the wall material should
be considered a danger to the wall itself. Raking or harrowing
of the side of the wall in the water of the dam is usually the
best means of sealing this type of seepage.
In the construction of this type of dam by bulldozers, the
excavation of the sides of the dam, if the land will stand
firm, should be made on as steep a slope as the implement will
dig. The water-side of the wall, as formed by the action of
the bulldozer pushing the material upwards, should be flatter
than the excavated sides. Usually the limitations of the
implement to push material up the slope of the wall will form
a wall of suitable slope.
The laying of a pipeline through the wall of the dam, or
through the earth below the wall of the dam, requires some
The danger to be avoided here lies in the fact that water will
tend to flow along the outside of the smooth pipe, creating an
ever-widening and larger hole, which may eventually let all
the water go and so destroy the wall.
The following method of laying these pipes has been found
After the wall site has been prepared by clearing away the
topsoil material and the subsoil ripping, a trench to receive
the pipeline is dug
Across the wall area a little to one side of the centre line
of the valley fall. This trench is to be at least three times
the diameter of the pipeline in width and depth.
A 12 x 12-inch trench is required for a 4-inch pipe. The
pipeline is laid in this trench with three or four large loose
flanges 12 to 16 inches diameter. These are placed around the
pipe from the inside of the wall to about its centre line.
At each flange along the pipeline trench, two or three
bucketfulls of wall material mixed with about 20 per cent. of
some lightweight material is placed around the pipe. The
trench is then filled in with adequate tamping of the material
up to the surface level of the trench. It is important that
this material should have the same moisture content as the
The special mixture at each flange of the pipes will tend to
seal the leak .if water does commence to flow along the
outside of the pipeline. Some of this lightweight material
will move to the small openings and will automatically re-seal
In granite country it may be necessary to excavate a
considerable portion below the wall site down to the depth of
the firmer decomposed rock to prevent complete loss of water
through the material below the wall..
If this work is done properly and the bank consolidated in
layers of six to nine inches deep, dams in this country will
hold water effectively. Without this work these dams will
often not hold any water.
The High Contour dam is the highest dam of the Keyline plan.
It is located in the areas above the Keylines.
Gently sloping country usually exists above the steeper slopes
which lie above the Keyline. The valley heads will actually
start at the low edge of this flatter country where the steep
slope country commences. The High Contour dam is constructed
here. The area selected for the dam site can be the side of a
hill or ridge. A slope as steep as 1 in 10 is suitable.
The race or drain to transport water to fill this dam is
located above the valley heads. It also serves to protect
further these valleys by preventing any flow into them. The
drain requires a fall of approximately 5 feet per 1000 feet.
The site of the drain and dam must be studied and planned
A sketch and cross section of a High Contour dam built on the
steep slope mentioned is illustrated below. Each cubic yard of
earth moved conserves two cubic yards of water. This ratio is
not as favourable as that in the construction of Keyline and
other valley dams which may be round the ratio of six of water
to one of excavated material. However, the value of the
conserved water in this High Contour dam more than warrants
its construction where the topography is suitable.
The High Contour dam may be constructed anywhere along a ridge
where a suitable slope exists and where run-off water can be
brought to the dam by a drain from one or both directions.
Because of these circumstances, the dam is usually long and
narrow and always along the contour.
A bulldozer is used for construction and the earth is moved
from the topside straight across the dam to form the wall. In
this way the haul is lessened and the cost of earth moving is
in direct proportion to the distance the earth is moved, so
this distance is kept to the minimum.
The drain to fill the dam is located and pegged when the dam
is marked out. The construction of the dam is completed before
the drain is built. There is then no danger whatever of losing
from heavy rains any part of the dam during its construction.
The back wall of the dam is constructed first. Then the 4-inch
pipe outlets are laid at one, or both, ends. After this, the
end walls are closed and the drain made.
A spillway is not constructed, because surplus water is
allowed to overflow from the drain at some distance from the
dam when it is full.
It is only necessary to see that the overflow does not occur
at the same place more than once during the first year or two,
so that no water wash is started. Once the drain is grassed,
blocks can be made at any suitable place in the drain to
overflow the water there.
Water transporting drains can become less effective, or
sometimes completely ineffective, by becoming overgrown with
vegetation. The best means of controlling this growth is by
seeding the drain to good grass species and manuring the drain
heavier than the adjacent pasture. This encourages the stock
to graze the drain area more closely than the rest of the
paddock. It is also advantageous to mow regularly the long
excavated slope of the drain so that the water transporting
capacity of the drain is unimpaired.
If a road is to traverse the area of the drain it can be
placed parallel to and above the drain. The water run-off from
the road is caught by the drain and conserved.
The Keyline dam, constructed on the Keyline, and the High
Contour dam, above the Keyline, are the two highest dams used
in Keyline planning. For this reason they are the most
important dams of all water-conservation schemes.
The water conserved in these dams is available under pressure
for instant use. It is the lowest cost irrigation of all
conserved water and is, therefore, used when the first dry
spell makes its use profitable and advisable. No dam should
ever be completely emptied except for reconstruction or
enlargement. A few feet of water is always left in these dams,
and this will go a long way toward protecting a bank from
dangerous dry cracking.
There are many farms that do not have their own Keylines. The
development of these farms is mentioned in a later chapter.
The con servation of water below the Keyline and on these
properties of lesser slopes is discussed here.
The first of these dams is called the Guideline dam, and is,
like the Keyline dam, a valley dam. The wall material is
excavated from the area of the valley which will be below
water level when the dam is filled. All earlier comments about
the Keyline dam, including the pipe outlet, are common to this
dam. Its particular location is apparent from the chapter
The next dam in Keyline Planning has its counterpart in the
ordinary valley dam. These are to be seen on farms and grazing
properties all over the countryside. The main consideration in
locating the usual farm valley dam has been to conserve the
greatest amount of water for the earth moved.
With the absorption into the soil and the conservation in
Keyline, High Contour and Guideline dams, of practically all
the rainfall, a large capacity lower dam has to be located
where it can be filled despite these other storages. By
locating it in a lower valley, such as the site indicated on
Map 4, it is in a favourable position to receive the combined
seepages from all the higher country. Apart from seepages,
this dam will receive water from very heavy storms and in the
periods of general heavy flood rains when most water
conservation storages may overflow.
These dams can be made large to act as a buffer or safety
against prolonged drought. They should be as deep as
practical, so that evaporation losses are reduced. Losses by
evaporation are in proportion to the surface area of the
water. A dam six feet deep could lose all its water in a hot
dry year, while a deeper dam would lose only the same depth
and have water storage when the other is empty.
The construction of dams by blocking a stream or creek is
usually controlled by the Government Water Conservation and
Irrigation Authority. Plans for these usually need the
approval of this authority, which will also often assist with
advice on the preparation of the construction plans.
Apart from other constructional details, the provision of
adequate and safe spillways for overflow is of maximum
importance in these stream dams.
Contour dams, of which the High Contour dam is the one placed
in the highest location, can be constructed in almost any type
of country to provide low cost large capacity water storage.
They are not located in valleys and, as with the High Contour
dam, require drains to provide the water.
On the land below the Keylines they can be filled from a
flowing stream or one that flows intermittently.
The location of a Contour dam is decided by first, the means
to fill the dam, and second, a suitable area for the use of
the conserved water. The water may be used for spray
irrigation and other purposes. The main excavation and bank of
the contour dam is always along the contour. The total cross
sectional area of the excavation and bank are approximately
the same whether the dam is very large or of medium size.
In the construction of the Contour dam a bulldozer is used and
earth is moved straight down the slope at a right angle to the
contour. The distance of the "haul" is kept to 100 feet
approximately, to provide for the most efficient bulldozer
A similar construction to that of the High Contour dam is
followed. In flatter country the end walls -- which are the
same length as the width in the High Contour dam -- become
longer. In the High Contour dam all water is conserved by
holding it in the excavated area by the wall. The Contour dam,
on the other hand, holds much of its capacity over unexcavated
In flatter country, where the contour dam then assumes the
shape of a "broken ring", the end walls are turned in toward
each other. The water race feeds the water into the dam
between the converging end walls.
On still flatter sites it assumes the shape of a "complete
ring" and the major storage capacity in larger dams is then
over the unexcavated central area.
A pipe outlet is placed through the end wall of the Contour
dam at the lowest ground level, and water conserved above this
height can be released by gravity.
Gravity pressure is used for irrigation if the conserved water
is high enough.
The outlet pipe through the wall of these dams can lead
directly to a centrifugal pump outside the wall. This
maintains the pump under a positive water head, so that
instantaneous water pumping is available without pump priming.
A Complete Ring dam should be constructed on a flat area of
land below a ridge to which water can be brought by the drain.
In deciding the location of the Complete Ring dam
consideration is first given to the filling of the dam by flow
from a watercourse. It may be practical to lead water from a
watercourse along a water race to a rise close to and above
the site, and from this point flow the water over the wall
The filling operation is controlled by a low weir wall
constructed across the supply stream bed. A suitable notch
outlet is provided to control the water. This wall,
constructed of logs, grouted stone or cement, need be only 2
feet to 3 feet high.
The fluming for the Complete Ring dam may be made of a variety
of materials, but its shape is always that of a long trough.
Wood or iron fluming is most suitable and the fluming is
supported by a trellis of bush timber.
These dams, ranging from the High Contour to the Complete Ring
dam are suitable for easy construction and very profitable use
in a wide variety of farming land. Small bulldozers may be
used. All the land that can be spray irrigated from such dams
will develop rapidly in fertility, productiveness and value.
Keyline progressive soil development, greatly stimulated by
the correct use of spray irrigation, will bring this land very
close to the value class of fertile irrigable river flats.
The overall costs of spray irrigation will be less than those
pertaining to river flats and the pumping of water from the
river. River water will have to be "lifted", whereas the water
of these dams is at least "assisted" by gravity.
TREES that were on land originally timbered were part of the
natural soil development. In no circumstances is the complete
destruction of all this timber necessary or desirable for
farming and grazing pursuits.
There is probably no other land development work that has been
so completely unplanned and haphazard as that of timber
killing and clearing and no factor of fertility so completely
In order to grow crops and satisfactory pasture on forested
country, clearing of timber is necessary. Gradually more and
more timber is cleared because of the disadvantageous effect
of trees on crop land.
However, like cultivation, clearing has been overdone, with
the result that soil fertility eventually suffered and crop
and pasture yields were affected.
Grasses and timber do not usually grow well together. A large
tree will all too often affect quite a sizeable area of crop
or pasture land and the tendency is to get rid of the tree.
On some farming lands trees are left scattered about. These
trees, no longer living in forest conditions, tend to die out.
It is often observed that the upper and outer branches are
dead; the trees are slowly dying together. On some farms they
are already dead.
Properties which contain some steep country are often cleared
to allow all the flatter country to be cropped. The steep land
is left timbered and used as grazing areas.
The general practice of leaving all steep country in timber to
protect it from erosion has not been successful, nor has this
practice improved the timber. Steep country, left fully
timbered, is often the greatest bushfire hazard and the worst
area for pests. A fire in a timbered area, followed by heavy
rain, is one of the causes of widespread land erosion.
To derive the greatest benefit from timber for soil fertility
and better farm working and living conditions, trees must be
left to serve the whole of the property.
Properly located trees cool a property for stock in summer and
warm it in winter. They protect the land from winds and in
their widest aspect may be capable of some overall improvement
Keyline timber clearing is planned to derive the greatest
benefit from trees for the whole of the farm.
First, trees are left in strips or belts wide enough to keep
some semblance of forest conditions in the timber for its
normal healthy growth.
Steep country is not left in full timber, but partially
cleared and timber strips are left to serve as wind protection
for the property.
The Keyline is again the planning guide for clearing. The
first timber strip half to one chain wide is left just below
the Keyline and forms a Keyline Timber Strip.
In most areas the lower side of this timber strip is suitable
for a farm road being drier generally than the land above the
timber strip. Crop or pasture suffers more from the effects of
moisture lost to the trees on the lower side of a timber
strip. However, when a road follows along the lower side of
the strip the little extra water run-off from the road causes
both grass and crop to grow well right up to the road.
The timber strip or the road along the timber strip forms a
permanent guide for Keyline cultivation.
The "first" Keyline road and Keyline timber strip. The road
and strip continue for another half mile beyond the point
shown in picture. Pasture consists of cocksfoot, lucerne,
rhodes and clovers. The area is above the "line of effective
water pressure" and does not receive irrigation water. Pasture
grows right up to the road. The trees protect the land.
From the Keyline both up the slope and down the slope of the
land, timber strips are left (or planted) on the contour at
regular vertical intervals apart. The important guide for
determining this vertical interval between timber strips is
related to the height of the trees. If trees are 45 feet high
the timber strips could be 40 feet apart vertically. This
provides some overall wind protection for all the land and
locates the timber strips closer together in the steep country
and farther apart as the country flattens.
Even in very flat country of low scrub or mallee only 10 to 15
feet high this formula for clearing will provide greatly
improved farm conditions. The only trees that are necessary
other than those on this pattern are the ones left around the
boundary of a Keyline paddock area.
Timber strips left as described are a valuable aid to soil
fertility, apart from the supply of the deep minerals which
they bring to the surface. In wet weather cattle will only
stay on soft pasture ground long enough to feed and then
return to the firmer ground in the undisturbed soil of the
The two most efficient land compacting implements are the
sheep-foot roller and the multiple pneumatic wheel roller. The
farmer has to contend with his own efficient compactors, which
are his stock and wheeled farm implements. The comfortable
conditions of the timber strips will keep his stock off wet,
soft ground to a large extent. The farmer, of course, should
leave his wheel machinery in the machine shed when the land is
wet. Thus compaction of the soil, one of the great destroyers
of soil fertility, is minimised.
By clearing the steep country on this pattern, more and better
grass areas are available and better timber will grow in the
Very short steep slope country is always of greater value when
cleared and Keyline developed. Suitable timber strips are left
on the flatter top country above.
Keyline Absorption-fertility methods above the timber strips
do, by the greatly increased moisture-holding capacity of this
land, provide the timber with better moisture. Timber growth
is considerably accelerated.
Timber strips will prevent land slips on country that would
tend normally to slip when fully cleared and saturated in
heavy rains. The timber strip is a definite and effective
anchor, holding the land together.
Land that has been Keyline cleared, when subsequently
subdivided into paddocks will have some shelter timber in all
paddocks. Every paddock, whether in the steeper slopes or the
flat country, can be rotated to grasses and crops in turn.
The only way to ensure perpetual timber is by providing
conditions that allow trees of all ages to grow together.
If each paddock in turn is closed to stock and cropped for two
years or more in each ten or twelve years, young trees develop
in the timber strips and permanency of timber belts is
To sum up the simple plan of Keyline timber clearing:
Decide on the location of the largest paddock areas -- see
further comment in the chapter headed "The Plan" -- and locate
the Keyline or Common Keyline of this section. Then peg or
suitably mark a strip or belt from 30 feet to 60 feet wide
parallel to the Keyline below it. This belt is to remain in
Next mark out the first timber strip above the Keyline by
pegging or marking a contour line at a vertical height above
the Keyline approximately ten per cent. less than the height
of the Keyline trees. Mark another contour line above this one
30 to 60 feet wide. This pegged area is the timber strip which
is to be left there.
Continue this contour marking, both above and below the
The contour marking of the tree strips leaves the strips
themselves of uneven width.
If tree strips of even width are desirable, then a contour
line forms the lower line of the strips above the Keyline. A
line, parallel to this, forms the upper line. Below the
Keyline the upper line of the strip is on a contour and the
lower line is parallel to it.
A strip of trees may also be left around the boundary of the
When the country is cleared on this pattern, the timber strips
form permanent markers for all Keyline cultivation.
No land could be more spectacularly beautiful than the
timbered undulating country of Australia which has been
cleared and developed by Keyline planning.
However, large areas of land that will come up for Keyline
development have had too much of their timber removed without
plan, and the growing of timber strips will be a necessary
part of the best Keyline development.
Generally a small Australian native tree will cost a little
over one shilling to plant, but may cost over one pound to
maintain for a year. While the cost of planting is not so
serious and can be reduced by growing the young trees on the
farm, the cost of growing timber strips of thousands of trees
is impracticable unless some cheaper and easier methods are
Keyline planning and development will permit the closing of
paddocks from stock for two or three years while crops are
grown. This time will allow a planted or "induced" timber belt
to develop to a stage where the trees will survive without
In large or small paddocks without trees that are to be
Keyline conversion-cultivated a timber strip 4 to 10 tree rows
wide can be planned. After the paddock has been completely
cultivated tree rows are marked; the first row by a deep
single rip cultivation parallel to the Keyline or Guideline.
The distances apart of the further rows of trees are gauged by
the tractor that will later cultivate between these rows. The
following procedure has been found suitable.
After completing the full Keyline conversion cultivation of
the paddock, mark out by a single rip the first tree row
position. A single shank is allowed to penetrate deeply
through the plowed soil. On the return run with the tractor,
place the higher side rear wheel in the lower wheel track of
the first run and travel the tractor back without ripping.
Turn and again with the uphill side rear wheel in the lower
track of the last run, mark out, by ripping deeply, the second
tree row. Repeat to the number of tree rows to be planted.
This row spacing will allow the tractor later to cultivate
satisfactorily between the tree rows. One or two cultivations
are advisable during the first year.
This work is done some months prior to the time for planting
the young trees, so as to collect as much deep moisture into
the earth as possible. The object is to improve the soil and
to provide sufficient moisture in the soil before the planting
of the young trees, so as to avoid entirely the necessity for
Australian native trees should be planted when a few inches
high and a few months old, and planted directly from the tubes
as used by the Forestry Nurseries. Plant the young trees well
into the moisture zone without breaking the tubed soil in
which the tree was raised. Press the soil down very firmly
around the trees.
Trees can be planted very quickly into this deep moist soil
with very few losses and without the addition of any water.
The distance apart of the trees in the row may be closer than
is intended for the developed trees. Spacings of eight feet
are suitable for a variety of tree species. Planting time
varies in different districts.
If watering and hand cultivation can be avoided, the chief
cost of growing the trees is also avoided.
A tree strip on a Keyline may sometimes be satisfactorily
grown by planting the tree seeds directly into the paddock.
Trees can be induced to grow by a variety of means without the
actual planting of young trees or tree seeds, by merely
leaving a strip of country out of plowing when the paddock is
closed for cropping. Tree growth will often flourish on the
untouched strip and form a valuable tree strip.
Two interesting incidents are recorded here to show that other
low cost means of growing valuable timber strips are available
to the farmer:
1 . During the construction some years ago of several water
races, the completed drains, all except one, were harrowed and
fertilised. A directive was given that this one drain was not
to be treated or touched in any way, in order to see just what
would grow on it. A variety of rubbish grew quickly on this
exposed subsoil. Three years later a row of trees 20 feet
high, all of one species, covered the drain.
2. During a very dry period several runs with a heavy road
plow were made to form a fire break. Later the dry grass of
this fire break strip was burned off. The paddock was not
stocked heavily during the following two or three years. At
the end of this time the fire break strip alone was then well
overgrown with trees all of one species. The trees here were a
different species entirely from those which were growing in
the drain less than a mile away.
From these happenings it can be seen that whenever a treeless
paddock is to be closed up for cropping for two years or more,
a suitably marked and planned strip of land should be left
untouched, or perhaps given some special attention so as to
allow a timber strip to develop of its own accord. Once the
trees are two or three years old the majority will survive
Steep Country and Valleys
CLIMATIC features have a profound influence on soil
development. Gently failing rains are better for natural
absorption-fertility than sudden heavy downpours. The gentle
rains are absorbed into the ground with all their fertility
factors. Ground moisture lasts longer and beneficent decay
continues while moisture is present. The surplus water
percolates underground after the majority of fertility factors
are filtered from the rainfall. All the gases contained in the
rain become available in sufficient or maximum quantities to
aid optimum fertility development. Many kinds of basic
minerals, organic elements and chemicals are contained in the
There is every reason to assume that a wide variety of
elements are brought into the soil when rain is absorbed and
held long enough to enable the humus of the soil to filter
these into itself.
In the harsher climatic conditions generally affecting most of
the Australian farming lands, natural absorption fertility
does not operate to the extent it does in countries of milder
climatic conditions. Moisture losses continuously retard
decay. Methods of extraction fertility farming act more
rapidly to reduce soil fertility to the stage of active soil
erosion. Australia, of course, is not alone in this. America
and Africa have similar conditions. The causes of erosion are
precisely the same in these and many other countries.
Just as obviously absorption-fertility farming on these lands
will be more strikingly effective than in the countries of
benevolent climatic conditions. If, by every practical means,
rainfall is absorbed into the earth and all its fertility
elements held, and if evaporation losses of moisture are
retarded greatly and processes of decay continue longer, then
these countries of the harsher climates may develop more
rapidly in fertility than the others. In such development, the
most important type of country of all is unquestionably the
steeper mountain and hill lands.
The effective control and rapid soil developments of these
lands will do much to mitigate the calamitous effects of the
worst feature of our climate,. The worst effect of droughts
and flood can be fought and conquered by absorption-fertility
methods of farming and grazing if applied quickly to these
At the present time the rapid run off from these lands
directly causes uncontrollable and destructive floods, with
losses of life, alarming destruction to property and stock,
and the choking of rivers and harbours with silt. The trail of
havoc extends from the mountains to the sea.
In dry, hot weather the steep undeveloped and uncontrolled
lands are a constant menace with their bushfire hazard.
Extermination of rabbits and other pests is more difficult in
Present recommended orthodox practice is to fence well, stock
conservatively and leave the timber on these steep lands in
order to protect them from erosion.
The trees of the steep grazing lands of Australia do not of
themselves prevent erosion. Only good management does that.
Timbered areas require better management to protect them than
Generally, the present condition of this steeper country is
such that it will not grow both good grass and good timber.
A Keyline principle is that planning and development above the
Keyline comes first. This development must be sufficient at
least to protect the lower lands.
The full development of steep country can only be accomplished
rapidly and effectively if it can be made to pay. The profit
must be almost immediate and definite -- not something in the
dim and distant future.
The first approach is simply to enable the steep country to
absorb the rain that falls on it and keep it in this
condition. Then follow the Keyline method of soil improvement
for pasture lands.
The clearing of this country on the Keyline clearing plan
leaves permanent timber strips that form a guide for Keyline
The full control that this gives will enable the effective
control of bush fires. The parts of this steep country that
may be adjacent to an outside fire risk area can be managed to
protect the whole property. It can be heavily grazed or
cultivated to form a completely effective fire break.
Considerable acreages of this steep country, often regarded as
of lesser or almost insignificant value, will be found to
develop better pastures than the land now considered as the
best on the farm.
At present, when a farmer leaves his steep country in timber
it is usually because he feels he must do so. Sometimes it is
left because he really wants to run it as a forest for profit
or for general farm purposes. He thinks then that the steep
country is the only place for such a forest. In the Keyline
development of steep country the farmer has the choice. He can
develop high quality soil and pasture, or if he wants a forest
area he can have this in the steep country or anywhere else.
Australia is, geologically, a very old continent. There are no
very high mountains and practically no steep country of long,
unbroken slope. By steep slope country is meant slopes of 100
per cent., or a rise or fall of one foot for each horizontal
foot. Many slopes of 100 per cent. do exist, but they are
nearly all short slopes rarely 150 feet long horizontally.
These short steep slopes generally exist as the sudden
dip-overs that form the valley heads -- the start of the
valleys. If the farmer wants some good growing timber he will
rarely grow it on this short steep country. Much better timber
will grow on the flatter country above and below.
The clearing of timber on sloping country is dealt with in
"Keyline Timber Clearing". Slopes of up to one foot rise in
three feet are Keyline developed as described in earlier
chapters. Most wheeled tractors will do this safely and well.
The three-point hitch and other tractors on which implements
are mounted, especially those of about 30 horse power, are
For short slopes steeper than one in three and up to one in
one, a rawler tractor and a trailed Graham will provide means
for full development of soil for pasture growth.
Keyline cultivation of the type required, up to three
workings, is first completed above the slope to 30 feet from
the steep dip over. The slope is then plowed directly down
hill. The tractor and "plow" make the turn in the flatter area
below and then travel squarely up the steep slope in the same
width of plowing of the downhill work. Turn in the flatter
area above and plow directly downhill beside the plowed ground
of the first downhill plowing width. Continue plowing directly
down hill in new ground and uphill in the plowed land of the
previous downhill width. By "breaking ground" only on the
downhill work and travelling uphill In the plowed ground, the
load on the tractor of the uphill work is reduced to such an
extent that the tractor will handle the implement on the
uphill travel without continuous implement depth adjustment.
The whole of the steeper country receives two cultivations by
this means, and this completes the steep country plowing.
The next step is to start from the Keyline and plow the area
above the Keyline to the bottom of the steep country plowed
area. Follow Keyline cultivation parallel to the Keyline on
the last run.
This land may in a short time grow some of the best pasture on
Unless it is solid rock, there is probably no country too
steep for improvement if stock will climb it for food. Country
that carries some soil, even if it is very steep, will display
significant improvement by Keyline full development undertaken
in the area immediately above it. It will probably be much
richer in the minerals of fertility than land that has been
heavily cropped and grazed by methods that have not only been
extracting fertility but destroying more fertility than they
extract in crop and stock production.
Our droughts and flooding rains are factors of prime
importance in the loss of fertility and later in soil losses
The effects of both are capable of profit producing control,
by the absorption of fertility into the soil of the hill
Valleys start or head where a portion of a slope near the top
of a watershed or divide becomes steeper than the general
slope on either side. Thus the first part of a valley
formation is steeper than the ridges or shoulders on each side
that form the valley. At some point down the valley -- the
Keypoint -- the valley slope flattens to such an extent that
it becomes flatter than the ridges or shoulders on each side
in the same vertical interval.
These factors, as already stated, locate our Keylines. The
valley itself and the ridges that form the valley are the two
points that require special care once the steeper land above
has been controlled by Keyline Absorption-fertility. The
valley floor has been a danger point for erosion and may have
gullies which require repair. The shoulders of the valley are
usually the driest areas.
While the valleys of the usual farming and grazing property,
if not eroded, carry more moisture than other areas, they
continue to extract ridge moisture even when the valleys are
too wet for healthy growth. This "dog in the manger" aspect of
the valleys is quickly offset by Keyline cultivation. The
ridge areas then receive and retain their fair share of
moisture for longer and longer periods.
If the valley is eroded the erosion holes will continue to
bleed moisture to the atmosphere until little remains. The
effect of this process can be observed where every tree of a
forest is dying in an eroded valley area.
Sufficient has been said in earlier chapters to illustrate the
effectiveness of Keyline cultivation in the control and
development of absorption fertility in valleys. Where
significant gully erosion exists this can also be controlled
by correct Keyline methods.
Keyline development first controls the usual water run off
into valleys from the higher land, by tremendously increasing
the absorption capacity of this area and diffusing the excess
water, thus greatly retarding and delaying its concentration
With the high country in this condition effective gully
control and repair in the valley below is simplified. If the
hole or gully is not large, repair is best done without the
use of bulldozers. Repairs with these implements, where the
valley soil is not deep, too often result in the topsoil
finishing in the hole and a relatively large area of
slow-to-improve subsoil remains. This will spoil the look and
value of the repaired valley.
A much better procedure is to use the Graham Plow for the
Plow up each side of the valley, allowing one end of the
"plow" to drop over into the hole. Spikes with heel sweeps
quickly move sufficient soil and subsoil from the banks into
the hole and allow the "plow" to cross in all directions. Only
sufficient filling or levelling of the hole is necessary to
ensure that the deeper part of the hole is not lower than the
valley immediately below. In this way ponding is prevented.
This repaired valley does not then expose all subsoil. The
soil and subsoil will be mixed and the effect of a bare
infertile patch in the valley will more quickly disappear.
Immediately the repair is complete the area is Keyline
cultivated or pasture improved and the repaired area is
It is seen that the procedure is as follows -- assuming the
holes are below the Keyline. First complete the cultivation
above the Keyline. Second, plow in the holes. Third,
immediately Keyline cultivate the area from the Keyline
paralleling the Keyline downward.
If the area treated is poor heavy soil, very low in humus
content, it will tend to seal quickly from very heavy rains.
When this happens the area is treated again both above and
below the Keyline on the procedure already discussed for soil
improvement of pasture lands. This is necessary to provide
oxygen so that improvement will continue. Without oxygen both
decay and growth will tend to cease. As the soil improves less
cultivation will be necessary to provide aeration and
absorption. The improved soil will provide these itself.
The great advantage of Keyline aeration cultivation on soil
that is sealed is sufficient to warrant its use even if a
recently sown pasture is still new and weak. In these
circumstances the cultivation still follows the Keyline
procedure. Spikes are to be used and spaced 24 inches apart.
One fast run completes the necessary Keyline aeration
cultivation and soil improvement will continue without check.
If the erosion holes and gullies in a valley to be Keyline
improved are merely to be "killed" or prevented from getting
worse, the procedure is the same except that the Keyline
cultivation -- that is the final cultivation run -- is divided
or split to suit these circumstances. See Map 5.
Parallel the Keyline progressively crossing and re-crossing
the valley until the first erosion gully is encountered. Then
complete the parallel runs downward, working to the gully and
back on one side until this side cultivation reaches the end
of the hole. Continue the cultivation on the other side of the
hole to the bottom -- downstream end -- of the hole. The next
cultivation run will then be a complete one parallel to the
others and again crossing the valley but now below the hole.
All this cultivation running from the erosion hole out and
away from it will have the Keyline drift away from the hole.
Only with very heavy rain will water again run in the gully,
and if any further erosion takes place it will be on a greatly
reduced scale. With continued Keyline soil improvement it will
In times of severe drought the only noticeable green tinge on
a grazing property will often be the narrow moist strip in a
valley. One of the first very noticeable effects of Keyline
development if followed by severe drought conditions is the
greatly widened area of longer-lasting valley greenness.
Keyline soon multiplies the effects of the average rainfall.
Practically no valleys are safe from erosion under
"extraction-fertility" methods of farming and grazing, while
under methods of Keyline Absorption-fertility all valleys,
including those of the steeper land, are safe from soil losses
and consequently erosion. Not only are they safe, which is a
negative matter, but they will improve progressively with all
other land in fertility, productiveness and beauty.
The use of trees in Keyline planning is discussed elsewhere in
this book, but a special reference to trees and their effect
on valleys can be considered here.
In the Keyline development of land, trees are not generally
left in valleys except as part of a Keyline or Guideline
timber strip. The eddying of water caused by a tree in the
path of the water flowing down a valley will often commence an
erosion gully. The breaking of the soil round a tree from root
movement and growth can also be a contributing factor.
Stock sheltering beneath a tree tends to powder the soil
around it, thus causing soil movement when water flows down
The effect of both these erosion hazards will be quickly
offset by Keyline improvement. It is still advisable to clear
the valley timber except when a Keyline or Guideline timber
strip crosses the valley. Stock will not damage this timber
which is left in a valley as part of a timber strip crossIng
The Keyline development of valleys is simpler and more rapidly
effective if there are no odd trees to consider.
It has been noted that a mob of cattle in a large paddock
containing three timber strips at different levels invariably
all camp in the one timber strip and spread themselves well
along the line of this belt. A night or two later they will be
together maybe in a higher or lower timber strip.
IT has been previously stated that Keyline cultivation
parallels from the Keyline up the slope of the land and from
the Keyline down the slope of the land. However, there are
very many properties that do not contain Keylines or a single
Keyline, and so a means of the simple application of Keyline
cultivation on such lands needs a Guideline on which to work.
These areas or farms are treated in the same way as are all
areas below the Keyline. Cultivate the land parallel to the
highest suitable Guideline, always working parallel down the
slope of the land.
The line that forms the overall or planning guide on these
properties is called a General Guideline, and, as with the
Keylines, may be either a selected true contour line or a line
with a very gentle slope. The slope would be for the purpose
of a water race connected to a water storage.
The special or significant feature of all land lying below the
Keylines is that the valley slopes are generally flatter and
wider than the adjacent ridge slopes that form the valleys.
This was fully explained in Chapter 2. The aim of Keyline
cultivation is the equalising of the moisture between the
wettest and the driest parts, that is between the valley and
the adjacent ridges. To do this most effectively a Guideline
is located in the highest position, where it can serve as a
guide for Keyline cultivation.
If the slope is long, another Guideline at a lower level is
located. It lies at a convenient distance below to serve as a
boundary to the upper area. This is a Lower Guideline and it
is usually a true contour line. It is marked by any suitable
means, preferably one that permanently locates it.
The control and development of these areas is approached first
from a consideration of water which flows down to the valleys
from the higher country outside. The entry of this run-off
water is usually at the lowest point along the highest
boundary fence. This may also locate the Guidepoint from which
a level or sloping line in both directions suitably forms the
If a large area of land lies above the selected General
Guideline it will be necessary to locate an upper Guideline to
control the Keyline improvement of the higher area. If so, the
upper Guideline is located and marked as high in the area
above the General Guideline as possible. Care should be taken
to see that it is of sufficient length to serve its purpose.
Outside run-off water may now be a problem. Perhaps the main
factor in determining the General Guideline will be the
position of a suitable conservation dam site for the storage
of this extremely valuable water. This site is looked for in
the highest third of the area, and when located the General
Guideline becomes a suitable water race to the dam site.
All the details of farm planning above the Keyline also apply
above the General Guideline of the land below the Keyline.
The main grazing or large cultivation area is below the
General Guideline. A Lower Guideline located at a suitable
distance below forms the top boundary of another group of
smaller paddocks. If their vertical distance below the
conserved water is sufficient, gravity spray irrigation is
always planned. Five per cent. of a grazing property that is
suitably planned and supplied with water for gravity spray
irrigation may add fifty per cent. or much more to the capital
value of the whole property.
In the development of timbered areas of this type of country,
clearing is done to leave suitable timber strips along the
General Guideline and all Guidelines.
The formula mentioned in Chapter 8, which relates the vertical
distance apart of these tree strips to the general height of
the trees, is again the planning guide.
Map 6 illustrates in simple form a valley area below the
Keyline and the location of the Guidepoint and General
Guideline. The parallel lines on the map which start from the
General Guideline and parallel it downward illustrate the
drift of water out of the valley. This compensates the natural
water concentration in the valley. Keyline cultivation is
again completely effective.
In selecting the Guidepoint -- in place of the Keypoint of
properties containing their own Keyline -- it may be advisable
to locate it just away from the fence at the lowest point
along the highest boundary. A distance of 20 feet from the
fence would allow a farm road to cross the paddock above the
Soil erosion by water is simply and profitably cured on
flatter lands by the methods of this book.
There is, however, a type of erosion that appears to defy
man's efforts to cure it when these efforts are confined to
"maximum soil improvement". This is the serious periodic
erosion by wind, which occurs alike on poor soils and fertile
soils of our marginal lands.
Following a period of three or four years of much drier than
usual conditions on this country when it has a normally sparse
rainfall, this serious wind erosion manifests itself. If the
latter end of a dry period coincides with that of a severe
drought, followed by high wind, these soils will move in vast
The dry period or the severe drought cannot be controlled and
the only possible solution to this problem lies in measures
designed to retard the ground velocity of the winds. A rough
cloddy surface will reduce a 60 m.p.h. wind to a velocity that
will not raise any appreciable dust from this soil, but at the
end of such a period of weather conditions as described the
surface condition alone will not have sufficient effect.
The growing of sufficient tree strips is the only possible
means of reducing the high velocity of these winds to such an
extent that the soil will not blow. The problem is one of
great magnitude and the solution in the planting of trees must
be of like proportions.
Indigenous trees can be induced to grow by leaving protected
strips of land in the right pattern. This is the lowest cost
means of growing the tree strips on a large scale. If the
country is treeless, then tree species will have to be
introduced which will not only grow well in this country but
survive the period of very dry conditions.
Nothing can be done during the time of the actual blows that
will give results commensurate with the money expended. The
planning of the work can be satisfactorily done at this time
so that when better rainfall conditions follow the drought the
land will be in a position to make quick rejuvenation. Four
years later this land could be safe from wind, erosion.
KEYLINE discussions so far have been concerned with the land
areas that contain valleys. The prime purpose of the lines of
cultivation on the Keyline principle is to counteract the
natural rapid concentration of rainfall into the valleys by an
induced drift out of the valleys. At the same time the
particular type of cultivation discussed in Chapter 4
enormously increases the absorption of rainfall into the soil
and effectively uses this rainfall for progressive soil
It is a practical impossibility to plow accurately on the
contour unless every travel line of the plow is level pegged
as a true contour line. This would require hundreds of lines
of instrument levelling in every small paddock. When contour
cultivation is attempted it must drift mainly off the contour.
Contour lines are rarely parallel to each other. They are
never parallel in undulating country.
Keyline cultivation, although it may start on the contour, is
soon "off the contour" by this parallel working. It is this
off-the-contour effect that is controlled in Keyline in order
to counteract the natural concentration of rain water in
This controlled, and completely effective,
drift-off-the-contour of Keyline cultivation is as fully
applicable to areas of land which contain no valleys or
A paddock area with an even slope in one general direction is
best developed from a Guideline located as high in the paddock
as possible, and one that still gives a line of sufficient
length to serve effectively as a guide for Keyline
cultivation. Cultivation parallels this Guideline down the
slope. The small areas left above this Guideline are cut out
in any convenient manner. If such an area contained small
erosion gutters they would be cured by this cultivation
Another paddock without a valley may have one side of the
paddock steeper than the other. It may be necessary to drift
the moisture in one direction while under different
circumstances the opposite may be advisable. This can be done
by Keyline cultivation, as illustrated in Maps 7 and 8.''
Map 7 illustrates a paddock area containing a steeper side,
"a" and a flatter side "b". Assume that the area "a" is partly
eroded and the whole paddock is to be Keyline improved. It
will be necessary to counteract the fast run-off to the
south-west from this area by an opposing drift in cultivation
furrows away from this direction. A Guideline is located, the
lowest suitable in this instance, and Keyline cultivation
parallels this line up the slope of the land, as illustrated
by the parallel lines of Map 7. These lines have a drift away
from the natural run-off direction. Protection and development
are thus secured.
We can now assume an opposite problem on the same area. "B" in
this case is wet or swampy and "a" is very dry. A drift
towards "a" of the surplus moisture of "b" is desired.
A Guideline is located in the highest, suitable position and
Keyline cultivation parallels this Guideline down the slope of
the land, as in Map 8. The surplus moisture of "b" now has a
"drift" to the dry area "a", with the effect that both areas
are immediately improved. The small areas left out of this
parallel cultivation are worked out in any convenient manner.
They will not affect the effectiveness of the work.
The sour wet area "b" is properly aerated for rapid
improvement and surplus moisture drifts to the area "a" to
improve it. Surplus moisture in these circumstances may drift
along the tine furrows underground away from "b" until this
area is left nicely moist, as distinct from wet. Moist
soil-not wet soil-produces healthy pasture growth.
With an appreciation of the astounding effectiveness of
Keyline cultivation and some experience of its use, it will be
found that relative moisture content of problem land can be
adjusted at will by the astute use of Keyline's
off-the-contour type of cultivation.
FULL Keyline planning, as far as the development of farming
and grazing land is concerned, is the logical use of all the
methods of Keyline that have been discussed in this book.
Keyline timber clearing cannot be applied on cleared land, but
the design of Keyline clearing to "leave" timber as strips or
belts can be applied in the growing of timber to aid soil
development and for general usefulness. The growing of trees
in suitable numbers cannot be attempted at once over all the
farm area, but a tree belt can be grown in two or three years
in a paddock that is conveniently closed for cropping. The
immense satisfaction from a successfully grown timber strip in
the first paddock would certainly induce the farmer to
continue the programme into other paddocks when convenient.
Water conservation in Keyline and High Contour dams obviously
can only be employed on farms of suitable land formations.
These farms embrace huge areas of the most important land from
a national point of view. Not only are these steeper lands
capable of tremendous and profitable improvement, but by their
effect on all the lower lands in their common catchment area
exert an influence over many more people than live on them.
While Keyline dams and the High Contour dams of the Keyline
plan are limited to properties with their own Keylines, the
principle of locating some dams high on the farm is almost
universally applicable and profitable. The design and the
layout of farms should locate as many of the water-shedding
areas and buildings as possible above these dams.
This would ensure additional water storage. Many of the dams
below the Keyline will provide water by gravity pressure to
operate spray irrigation and stock watering systems.
It is a principle of the Keyline plan that all land on the
farm is made to absorb all -- or nearly all -- the rain that
falls on it. Surplus rainfall runs off slowly along the
natural flow lines of the land. Water is transferred for
storage only and never to another valley for disposal. Rapid
run-off and consequent erosion are fought or offset by the
rapid development of fertile absorbent soils. In many places
damages from present water runoff are accelerating. The
Keyline plan first retards and then completely prevents the
usual erosion of farming and grazing lands.
Keyline progressive soil development or any other Keyline
work, by being complete and fully effective in each area on
which it is applied, whether on the small paddocks of a farm
or on a large grazing area, requires no outside co-operation
It is completely effective as an isolated unit.
The Keyline plan operating on farms in an area of regional
planning is complete in itself. Every farmer, by improving his
land, is doing the best that is possible for the region, but
he is still an individual working for his own pleasure and
General land development is always vitally concerned with
water. Whether the object is the conservation of water for the
production of soil fertility and increased yields, or whether
the aim is the control of water for flood prevention or
irrigation schemes, the general subdivision of land into
smaller areas and paddocks is best governed by natural
Keyline planning of a large area of land first aims to divide
the area into smaller units or paddocks which are suitable for
later economical development and farm working.
A good contour map of the area is of great value in this
planning. A map with contour lines at 20-foot vertical
intervals is suitable for land containing slopes from gently
to steeply undulating. Ten-foot contours are suitable for
gently undulating areas and 5-foot for flatter slopes. On the
flatter country contour intervals should be such that at least
three contour lines are contained in the large paddock areas.
With less than three contours such maps do not display a
complete picture of the land for subdivision and development.
Watershed areas both small and large can be located at a
glance. Keylines and Common Keylines are readily found on the
map; in fact, the geometry of the contour lines emphasises the
Keylines. The steeper country appears to be narrower
proportionately between the contour lines on the map than does
the country of lesser slopes between its lines.
These maps enable the planning lines to be located in the
approximate position in which they will be used in Keyline
development on the land itself. Keyline areas, Chapter 6,
located from these maps, can be readily plotted on the land.
Good farm contour maps as described are, however, rarely
available now, but the importance of "planning the work then
working the plan" in all matters relating to land development
is such that the use of good farm contour maps should become
general practice. It would be of tremendous benefit to the
farmer if some service was available to produce farm maps
quickly and cheaply. Parish maps are generally the only ones
now available and these, increased to a larger scale, can
serve as a basis for the mapping of the areas. Keylines as
located on the property can be plotted on the parish map and
so form a simple and effective farm map.
The largest suitable land unit for planned development is that
contained in the watershed of a river system. Within this
large area of land are contained the numerous smaller
watersheds of the creeks and streams which flow to this river.
Again, within these smaller watersheds are the lesser
watershed areas of all the valleys which flow into the
smallest watercourses. These lesser valleys are the valleys of
the Keylines with which we are directly concerned in Keyline
development. Single valley Keylines and Common Keylines form
the lesser subdivision of the Keyline areas (Chapter 6).
When large land areas are cut up for sale they are usually
subdivided along the lines of existing fences. As the likely
fate of all large good land areas is subdivision into smaller
farms, the initial subdivision into larger paddocks can be
planned with a view to their later development into separate
farms of a satisfactory living area. Watershed areas of the
large paddock size may be suitable for this purpose. Good
subdivision at this time will further enhance the value of the
land when it has been developed.
On undeveloped land, which is many times the size of the
potential developed living area, one such large paddock can be
fenced adequately and Keyline developed to a profitable farm
or grazing property.
Within this area the Keylines are first located. Development
then follows the pattern of the various aspects of Keyline;
timber strips are located; smaller paddocks are determined;
buildings and yards, etc are located above the Keyline;
irrigation areas are pegged below the effective water pressure
level of the Keyline dams and High Contour dams.
The general picture of Keyline planning in undulating country
follows a distinctive pattern. The flatter top country above
the Keylines contains all the buildings, yards and their
roads, as well as the numerous smaller paddocks necessary for
the running of all farms or grazing properties. Tree belts are
left in this area as described in Chapter 8. Immediately below
the Keyline are the large paddocks for grazing and cropping.
The lower boundary of this area forms the top boundary of
another area of smaller paddocks. These make use of the
gravity pressure of the high dams for irrigation. Timber belts
are left on the formula suggested for Keyline clearing.
On this plan rapid Keyline development of this first area
should pay for the progressive development of a large
undeveloped area of land.
The cost of Keyline land development will be lower than the
present development of such areas, but the actual cost of
clearing may be higher because of the additional cost of the
necessary planning that must precede this clearing. Extra cost
over the usual unplanned clearing may be involved by the
On land already fenced there is no need to alter the present
paddock layout. As Keyline is generally complete and effective
in itself in any area small or large on which it is applied,
special fencing is not necessary. It may be necessary to dig
under a fence in constructing a Keyline water drain to
transport water to the Keyline or other dams.
The Keylines, which are the basis of this land planning, have
been illustrated throughout this book on simple contour maps.
Keylines will usually have to be located without the aid of
maps. When the Keylines of Map 4 are to be located on the land
illustrated in this map, but without the aid of the map, the
Keypoint is located in the first valley. This is done by
walking down the steeper head of the valley to the approximate
point of the first main flattening of the slope of the valley
floor. This is the point at which the valley floor first
becomes as flat or flatter than the adjacent ridges.
This point, the Keypoint, is marked by a peg or stake in the
centre of the valley. A line of levels, on the longest
possible convenient sighting with the levelling instrument
available, is then made to the boundary fence in one direction
and through the valleys in the opposite direction. When the
line of levels reaches the second valley it crosses this
valley on the approximate Keyline of the second valley, and
similarly, in the third valley.
At the fourth valley it would be obvious that the line is well
below the Keyline of this valley. In this fourth valley a new
Keypoint is located and a new Keyline extended to the
With this line of pegs as a guide, the location for all the
Keyline dam sites is studied. If one dam only is to be
constructed, the site in the first valley is selected. The
reasons for this selection are given in Chapter 7.
The working Keyline will then be a drain to carry water to
this site. The slightly higher position of the Keyline in the
second and third valleys, made necessary by the fall in the
Keyline drain from these valleys to the first one, does not
present any problem. It can be taken as a usual rule that the
Keylines tend to fall in the direction of the general fall of
The actual position of the Keyline drain or other "marker" for
the Keyline on the land can always be located or adjusted a
little to suit overall circumstances.
The Common Keyline of two valleys may be made to serve the
purpose of a common Keyline of three valleys by a little
adjustment in its location.
While accurate levels are very necessary, the exact location
of the Keyline is not necessary. It is the fact that the
aggregate of all the cultivation runs parallel the Keyline and
drift down and away from the valley that gives Keyline
cultivation its powerful influence.
Referring to the area above the Keyline, Map 4, it will be
seen that this land may be developed very rapidly by Keyline
absorption fertility to a state where greatly reduced run-off
water is available to fill the Keyline dams below it. Full use
of the run-off water from buildings, yards, road, etc., which
would be suitably located here, will supply the water to fill
the dams. The road alone will shed a large volume of water.
The Keyline plan first develops fertility by maximum
absorption in all pasture crop and forest land. This
development starts in the steeper areas first. The other great
aim of the Keyline plan is the conservation and profitable use
of all water that flows to or on the farm. There is, however,
no suggestion that large areas of land should be left
undeveloped so as to provide a catchment area in order to shed
water for conservation in dams. The use of this water to
develop high yields on one portion of the farm at the expense
of the larger undeveloped catchment area is completely
unsound. This is not the way to either full progressive soil
development or maximum yields and profit.
Keyline and High Contour dams for water conservation are
located in the best possible sites for the effective and low
cost application of the conserved water. Gravity pressure for
spray irrigation and other purposes is much cheaper than
The other dams mentioned in Chapter 7 are placed as indicated.
The type of dam to suit the topography is obvious from the
discussion in the earlier chapter. The overall aim is again
the conservation of all the water that flows to and falls on
First, conserve all the rainfall that is possible into the
soil for the benefit of all the land and for the production of
high fertility. Second, conserve all water that flows from any
and all high sources into the highest suitable sites in the
Keyline -- High Contour and Guideline dams. Third, provide for
other and large storage capacity in lower sites in the contour
dams of Keyline, the lower valley dam and the creek or stream
From the economic aspect and the working of a farm some water
storage must be provided.
The retention of more water in the soil by correct cultivation
methods will provide extra profits. These should be used to
pay for the capital cost of suitable dams for irrigation. This
will provide further profits.
An overall scheme of maximum water storage can be undertaken
on limited finance when each new storage in its turn is used
to promote soil improvement and more low cost high yields. Any
expenditure incurred in the construction of such a scheme of
progressive water storage, including the drains for conserving
or conveying water, is deductable in arriving at the taxable
income of a primary producer for income tax purposes. Taxation
is in this way designed to assist those who will develop the
Floods or Keyline?
FERTILE soil grows good grasses and crops, which in turn feed
and make healthy animals. The products from these things are
the dominating factors in the health of the community. Poor
soil grows poor grass, poor crops and animals, and these have
a detrimental effect on the health of the people.
The vast difference in the flavour of salad vegetables grown
on fertile and infertile soil should have been noted by
everyone. The products of fertile soil sustain healthful life.
The growth from poor soil is only suited to be again absorbed
into the soil to help cure the ills of the soil.
The good farmer, by cherishing and improving the fertility of
his own particular soil, is safeguarding the basic factors of
the health and prosperity of every section of any community.
At the same time he is in the first line of the general fight
Fertile soil is the basic factor in the health of the
community. It is also of the greatest importance to the safety
of all the land; it resists to an astounding degree the forces
of soil erosion.
There are many other causes of soil erosion than those which
may originate from the actions of our few generations of
farmers and graziers. While no one generation of farmers
caused a significant amount of soil erosion, the accumulation
of soil damages from past generations have manifested
themselves in greater soil movements in this last generation.
The forces of erosion are accelerating.
Whenever run-off water is artificially concentrated, an
erosion hazard is created. The damages from public roads and
other sources completely outside the responsibility of the
farmers and graziers cause widespread erosions on the farmers'
own lands. Government stock routes and forests are not free
from erosion. A bushfire from any cause is always a hazard. A
careless camper, a cigarette from a motorist, a spark from a
railway engine-all are serious in accelerating soil erosion.
There is, however, no doubt that concerted actions by the
community of farmers and graziers could do more in much less
time to stop erosion and the shockingly devastating floods,
than all the authorities concerned, even with unlimited money.
It would take at least two years for the various authorities
who would be concerned to agree on any plan. The work could
have been completed by the farmers in that time. They would
incidentally have increased the value of their land and made
To be quite specific, if the Keyline plan was adopted by the
farmers and graziers of the Hunter River Valley, the result
would be certain and rapid.
Every farmer and grazier would enrich himself greatly by the
resulting increased value of his land and the better quality
of his farm yields. The whole of the Hunter River and its
eroding banks and flats would be, protected by the farmer's
work on his own land. Devastating floods would not occur again
at such important population centres as Maitland or any other
town on the river. Clear water would flow in the river all the
year round and the flow would be more even and constant.
If we assume that the ancient flow of generally clearer water
was compatible with the early better anchorages in Newcastle
Harbour, may not a new flow of cleaner water result in
gradually clearing the harbour, instead of the present
continually increasing depositions of silt? Would not a
constantly greater flow of cleaner water result in the removal
of recently deposited silt from the lower reaches of the
All the huge water conservation projects and all the special
dams for flood mitigation will not hold as much water as the
land itself if all the soil is kept in a condition to absorb
the rain when it comes. Dams for flood control are effective
if they remain only partly filled, so that large potential
storage is always available to act as huge shock absorbers for
To this new vast water storage capacity of the soil we must
add the effect to be obtained from the Keyline dams, the High
Contour dams and the others discussed in this book.
These dams, constructed as they are for use whenever required,
with their pipe and valve outlets to provide water at the turn
of a large tap, will form a tremendous buffer against floods.
The conserved water is second only in low cost irrigation to
the rain itself. The Australian drought-breaking flooding
rains will then find a huge capacity in the farmers' dams
ready to offset their intensity and destructive force. The
drought will surely have warranted the use of the water of
these dams and their capacity will be available for the flood
From geological evidence it is apparent that floods did occur
before the farming and grazing practices of our few
generations of farmers greatly reduced the capacity of the
land to absorb rainfall and retard the sudden flood. It is
just as apparent that no rains of recent decades should have
caused so much destruction. In this geological age of lower
rainfall and drier conditions, every drop of water, including
the rains that now cause our floods, should and could be used
in the production of better soil. The soil would probably be
better than that which previously existed in the Hunter River
These remarks are not a suggestion that the Keyline plan will
in effect put the clock back one hundred and fifty years, nor
is it suggested that the valleys and streams of this important
river watershed will revert to their former state as regards
the cleanness of the river flow and the reduction of the quick
destroying flood. No! Much more than this is feasible. The
whole of the land will rapidly become more fertile and
absorbent than it ever was. The heights which the floods
reached one hundred and fifty years ago, which were perhaps
much less than those of to-day, would probably not be reached
There is no doubt that, at the moment, great flood dangers
exist. There is also no doubt that projects of a national
character in the construction of many flood control structures
would greatly mitigate the danger of the big floods.
These works cost sums of money that to the ordinary mind are
quite fantastic. They require for their finance a toll on the
whole of the community. They cover with water large areas of
very valuable land.
From a practical business point of view, where is the flood
control problem, or any other problem for that matter, if a
highly profitable solution is found!
Against the Keyline picture of almost absolute control, we
have the ever-present menace of the big flood with something
much more than a possibility that a flood larger than the
previous worst one could occur at any time with little
warning. The only other hope of protection, which lies in the
very remote future, is the construction of fabulously costly
Government projected flood control dams. If and when
sufficient of these are constructed they would not have as
great a combined water storage capacity as that which can be
had at very little cost in the soil itself by Keyline
The reason why soil erosion control or soil conservation has
not been accepted by a very large percentage of land owners is
simply that these matters are not always good business. Too
often it is something to be attempted reluctantly and
postponed very easily. The approach is negative, the cost
real, and the profit remote.
The phrase "Prevent erosion and save the soil that is left"
Why not, as far as the farmer and grazier is concerned, forget
Instead, build better soil structure, improve soil fertility,
make, manufacture and create deeper, more fertile soil just by
providing soil with the capacity to absorb fertility. If a
sheet eroded area or an erosion gully is in the path of the
better soil drive, convert it; engulf it in the waves of
If a Shire Council or the Main Roads' Board is causing large
quantities of water to be diverted on to the farmer's land,
thereby causing destruction, diffuse it, disperse it, absorb
and conserve it in dams. It may be dirty water, but it is
water. It is the greatest factor, as far as the average
Australian farmer is concerned, in fertile soil development
and better yield.
The failure generally to treat agriculture in its entirety by
sectionalising and subsectionalising too much with inadequate
means of proper coordination has led to a completely unnatural
and artificial basic approach to land matters. The soil has
been lost looking for the crop. The land is being lost while
only three or four inches of topsoil is used. Improving and
progressively increasing the depth of the soil is the first
basis of any permanent yield improvement. Any and all other
means of improvement may then logically follow.
Absorption-fertility is real fertility. It is not doctored nor
It is the great privilege and responsibility of the farmer to
give himself, his family and the community the benefit in
health and wellbeing to which they are entitled from The
Before and After Keyline
BRIEFLY recorded here are some experiences and incidents that
were associated with the development of the Keyline plan.
Between the years 1943 and 1950, the experiments which I
carried out on my properties were based on my own experiences,
coupled with some of the methods recommended by the Soil
Conservation Services of America. The use of contours and
gently failing drains are not the particular invention of soil
conservationists but were used thousands of years before the
modern understanding of soil erosion. My use of these land
engineering principles then followed more closely those of the
mining and construction engineer than the soil
For a few years following 1944, the Geography Department of
the University of Sydney took some interest in the work which
I was doing., Geography students used the property for some
time for practical map reading and survey instrument
exercises. Their work was later coordinated by the Geography
Department into a complete contour map of the area. This map
has been of considerable value.
Where formerly only week-end work on my part was possible, in
1948 more was to be done. That year a qualified geographer was
employed by me. As part of my business already included work
which could be classed as land development, I had in mind
providing increased service in "Planned" land development.
Results were not satisfactory and the idea was dropped.
I will not describe these earlier works, which included the
construction of many miles of drains built with all types of
implements from the smallest ditchers to the largest tandem
drive road graders. As far as I am concerned, they were all
valuable experience, but they did not in any way satisfy my
main aim for "planned" land development. All these earlier
works, with the exceptions mentioned, have now given way to
It is, however, worth while recording the last system of soil
conservation drains which were built during 1951.
This last area was badly gullied and surface eroded. Still
believing that protective drains were necessary on such
country, and may continue to be so, the drain layout was
designed to suit the working of the property after the
problems of erosion had disappeared. The valleys of the area
all drained to a rocky creek falling to the east at a slope of
50 feet to the mile. In order to bring the surplus water from
the drains closer to the creek, all drains of the system --
except one -- flowed or had a fall to the west. This resulted,
for instance, in the top drain of one valley, where it was 500
yards from the creek, being only a short distance from the
same creek when this drain was carried across three valleys.
This greatly assisted the safe disposal of water without the
grassed waterways of orthodox soil conservation.
To complete the stabilisation of all the valleys and their
problem gullies, it was only necessary for me to start work on
the most easterly gully and transfer the water from this
valley to the next valley westward. With the first valley
stabilised, the next was treated and its water transferred to
the second valley, again westward, and so on.
All drains flowed from east to west. The highest drain on the
east end of the area protected a series of small valley heads
and transferred the water to a dam. The second drain broke the
velocity of water from the steep valley heads and protected
the larger valley into which these flowed. All the lower
drains further ensured the safety of the whole area.
These details are given for two reasons. Firstly, the layout
of the drains which was the result of some years of experience
was, I believed at the time, quite good. Visitors who had some
knowledge of these matters commented on the excellent layout.
Secondly, these were the last drains for "protection" which I
constructed. Before the western end of the area was started,
the basis of the Keyline idea was originated. The whole drain
system was later plowed out and Keyline development
instituted. The extreme western area, where drains were not
constructed, was developed solely on Keyline. The work took
little time, and cost approximately one-tenth of the work
which had been done at the other end of the area.
This fine system of drains was never required. None of these
drains is left except those which transport water to the dams.
Not only was Keyline work a fraction of the cost of the other
development, but in itself was much more effective in building
the soil. By instituting Keyline cultivation for
absorption-fertility, erosion was immediately controlled, but
the Keyline work itself was a part of ordinary farming.
Keyline work in these circumstances costs nothing.
Ten years ago, when the first system of sloping drains and
banks was started, I begrudged seeing water leaving the
property, knowing it ,would almost certainly be needed in a
few weeks. The absorption banks and pasture furrows of
orthodox conservation are very effective in preventing this
loss. These were given some thought. However, I had a fixed
notion that my property should eventually look better than
these works would permit. I did not use either the absorption
bank or the pasture furrow. A programme of contour deep
ripping was started instead to keep the water on the farm.
Ninety and one-hundred-and-twenty horsepower crawler tractors
were used and hundreds of acres were deeply ripped. Furrows
were 24 and 36 inches apart. Some of my deep ripping
experiments are recorded in "Soil Erosion in Australia and New
Zealand," by Prof. J. Macdonald Holmes, Ph.D. Contour deep
ripping is mentioned later.
Some years ago I used the "silt dam" and "stone check walls"
of soil conservation to catch some of my own soil. The area
above these structures has now been "Keylined" and the stone
check walls removed. These structures are not used in Keyline
except to "check" soil and water flowing onto a farm from
The technique of Keyline conversion-year cultivation to
convert poor land rapidly to absorption-fertility methods is
vouched for from experience. The low cost continuance of the
methods, following conversion-year cultivation with the
implements now used, will be experienced by many Australian
farmers this year (1954) who used conversion cultivation last
year. I have seen conversion-year cultivation, followed by
good rain, change soil structure in a few weeks.
The amazing results of the methods of Keyline progressive soil
development that quickly increases both soil fertility and
actual depth of fertile soil are completely satisfactory.
Deep ripping on the contour 9 or 10 years ago was at first
thought to be worthwhile. Now I know that with the big rippers
and high power I employed this can play no important part in
practical farming. The experiences were, however, of great
value in the later formulation and proof of Keyline
progressive soil development methods.
Here I stress the fact that this work was not on small plots,
but covered hundreds of acres.
The Keyline development of valleys has stood the test of
rainfall of near our district's maximum intensity -- Richmond,
N.S.W. Twenty-two inches of rain in six days, eight inches
falling on the sixth day, gave an unexpected test to a large
area of new work without damage. Two feet depth of water on
this sixth day flowed down a newly Keyline cultivated valley.
The heavy, wet-plowed soil on its rough chiselled bottom did
not move. If this bottom had been of even, all-over depth from
ordinary cultivation, a heavy soil loss would have resulted.
I had experience of the control, conservation and transport of
water as a mining engineer. This experience has been the real
background of my work in land development. For the
conservation of water on my property, I constructed 10 years
ago the first "high dam", which we call Quarry Dam, with a
4-inch pipe through the wall and gate valve outlet. Quarry
Dam, which has no natural catchment, is filled by a drain
which collects water from a shire road. Water will flow from
the road into this dam after little rainfall which will not
cause waterflow anywhere on the property. A main line and
spray lines from this dam give completely effective and low
cost spray irrigation on an adjacent lower paddock. Good crop
or high pasture yields can be produced any time without
pumping the water for spray irrigation. Six dams on my
properties have pipe and valve outlets through the walls. Five
dams are filled by water-collecting drains. Some of the dams
can be filled from larger dams by turning a 4-inch gate valve.
These earlier water conservation works are now streamlined in
Keyline planning with the proper placing of the dams of the
Keyline plan and the logical fixing of Irrigation areas.
Working originally without the Keyline plan, much clearing was
done before I realised the value of planned clearing. Later on
timber strips from 30 to 70 feet wide were left along
contours. This idea now has a very definite and logical part
in Keyline planning.
I have Keyline dams in use with irrigation outlets from which
a turn of a 4-inch valve starts a line of sprays. Keyline
timber strips are flourishing with a Keyline road below them.
The road is stable and does not wash.
Eroded valleys have been restored by both Keyline and other
methods. Holes to 12 feet deep were satisfactorily treated
with the Graham Plow as suggested.
Steep country which was developed on the Keyline plan is
growing better pasture, and much better tree growth in the
timber strip has resulted.
Slopes with a fall of one in three were first Keylined. Then
slopes to one in one were Keyline improved. These have had the
test of heavy rains without damage and now grow improving
The clearing of timber from valleys was decided on and
practised some years ago. This was done doubtfully at first,
but all experience since confirms the practice. A Keyline or
Guideline timber strip can cross a valley as part of a strip
and presents no problems. These timber strips are thriving on
Keyline cultivation in its use for improving soil for pasture
improvement is outstandingly beneficial. Very steep slopes
which I once believed impossible of economic improvement are
handled simply and profitably.
A valley on, my farm, shaped like an amphitheatre, formed by
the joining of two smaller and steeper valleys, had two wet,
sour runs through its upper part. These joined, forming a
boggy patch through the lower level of the valley. One working
of Keyline cultivation completely transformed this valley. The
water and reedy rubbish disappeared with the wet runs.
Moisture and growth is even throughout the whole valley.
Another valley of totally different aspect was a problem
before Keyline. It had very narrow, steep shoulders and no
soil in the bottom, because of a too-rapid water run. It was
of no use or value and looked ugly. Five stone check walls or
soil-saving dams were put in to stop the damage and save some
soil. Immediately following the Keyline idea the area above
was Keyline cultivated and a crop sown. The stone checks were
removed from the valley and with the rest of the strip it
received one working with spikes on Keyline cultivation. The
wheel tractor could just make the gully crossings. The valley
is now stable and improving with fair pasture. The dry and
barren shoulders of the valley get their share of the moisture
which the steep valley formerly drew from them. They are
growing good pasture.
Two areas of poor sandy soil with plenty of rocks came up for
improvement a few years ago. The first area was protected with
a well-designed layout of contour banks and drains. Heavy rain
brought us out at 2 a.m. to watch the drains work. We worked
all night but eventually breaks in the banks of the poor sandy
soil won. Later they were repaired and worked, but were always
a worry, especially in heavy rain at night. The banks were
easily damaged by tractors also if care was not always
exercised. We postponed commencing the second area, which was
steeper and poorer.
Following the Keyline idea, the drains were ploughed out and
the area Keyline cultivated. The postponed area was Keyline
cultivated and sown. Heavy rain no longer causes any worry --
it can only do good.
As mentioned, many miles of banks and drains that formerly
worked well in moving water safely off some areas have been
ploughed out. We now keep the water in the land. Rain outside
our absorption and conservation capacity moves off safely
along the country's natural flow lines.
The only drains ever needed on our undulating to steeply
undulating country were water conservation drains that
transport water for storage or transport stored water for use.
These have been retained. None is in, use for soil
conservation. I do not use even the word "conservation" in
association with soil. It is inappropriate. I am not
interested now in soil conservation, only soil development,
soil structure, soil fertility, increasing soil depth, and, of
course, water conservation.
Two types of soils only, Wianamatta shale clays and Hawkesbury
sandstone, are found on our properties. Both are
characteristically poor. The shale-clay soils in their natural
condition take rainfall slowly and dry out rapidly.
The sandstone soils are usually pale yellow and as poor as
they look. The poor quality of these two soils has really been
a great advantage in development in the last few years. It
took me years to realise this advantage. If wrong methods are
used on the clays they become apparent, when the signs can be
read, within a season. Wrong methods on fertile soil may not
manifest themselves for a decade or two. When right methods
are used on the poor clays this is also quickly apparent, but
on fertile soil it may not be clearly shown for a long period.
This is also generally true of the smaller areas of poor sandy
Recently, walking over two paddocks with a visitor in wet
weather, we noticed that mud built up considerably on our
boots in one paddock but in another paddock did not do so.
Both paddocks carried the same soil type (shale clay), but the
one with the sticky soil was nearly a year behind in Keyline
Our shale and sandstone soils resemble each other a little
more closely as they improve. The shale is becoming friable,
looser and crumbier while the sandstone is developing some
"body". Both are becoming darker.
Last year a portion of a paddock was deliberately
over-cultivated during experiments with various types of
cultivating points. The areas both above and below this
paddock were more correctly cultivated. Results of development
and growth on the over-cultivated area was watched following
the sowing of the whole area. Germination was generally good.
The first effect noticed was slight soil movement on the
over-cultivated area. Growth here was not noticeably poorer,
in fact all growth was apparently good.
Large numbers of crows were seen flying over the
over-cultivated land and investigation disclosed millions of
cutworms at work on the H.I. rye, cocksfoot, lucerne and other
grasses in the sowing.
The workers on the farm were anxious to destroy them, each
with his own favourite poison. I disapproved and said that we
would watch to see what would happen. Both men forecast rapid
destruction for all the pastures, particularly the adjoining
ones above and below. Two weeks later the pasture on the
over-cultivated land was gone. However, of the cutworms that
infested it in millions, not one could be found on the other
areas. The cutworms disappeared without having been seen
On the face of this, it appears that the over-cultivation was
the only factor that influenced the course of the infestation.
However, this may be too much to deduce from the isolated
nature of the occurrence. The fact that I expected the
cutworms to stay in the over-cultivated area may just be
coincidence. I do not believe, however, that the happening was
extraordinary; I believe it was a simple matter of cause and
The infested area, overcultivated as it was, surface sealed to
a marked extent with the rain, and the first evidence of
something wrong was seen in small erosion gutters in a few
places as mentioned.
The cure for this strip of soil, although it was at first too
fine from over-cultivation, was further cultivation. But this
time the sealed surface was worked once with spikes two feet
apart. There is a sufficient pasture growth again apparent to
ensure a good pasture with correct treatment. There was also
heavy resultant growth of weeds, which were mulched mowed
prior to the cultivation.
In the process of finding a few right answers, a remarkably
comprehensive knowledge of what not to do was acquired.
Efforts have been made to pose land-use and land-development
problems to the Keyline methods. This led to the conclusion
that my own properties presented as many problems as any other
properties examined. With the simple solution of many apparent
problems, the scope and usefulness of the whole system of
Keyline has extended and broadened. Now it seems that forest,
town, region and state planning will be assisted as well by
A study of Keyline principles generally is greatly assisted by
accurately drawn contour farm maps. These, however, are rare.
The few Australian farmers who have them are asked, as a great
favour, to make their maps available to me for copying and
study. The contour maps required for my purposes need to be
accurately drawn of the valley regions. Contours only roughly
interpolated are not of use.
A great deal of satisfaction is experienced in the developing
and improving of the property seen from Keyline work. The
satisfaction is always tinged with impatience to see the next
Where Keyline timber strips are seen there is a very definite
"new look" to this landscape.
Ordinary things like weather have a different aspect. Heavy
rain or a fierce thunderstorm is a welcome experience. It will
not now damage any part of the land; it must do good. Even a
long dry spell is an interesting test of the moisture-holding
capacity on an earlier Keylined paddock.
Following 440 points of rain in six months, one paddock not
Keyline treated was dry and dead; another one first Keyline
cultivated nearly two years before was growing green grass.
The possibility of damage from a bushfire is greatly
diminished. The hazard paddocks Keyline cleared can be
ploughed, cropped or hard stocked to protect the rest of the
property from a fire danger area.
A dry, hot and oppressive day is bearable if a pool of water
is visible with a few green trees near it, and a line of
Keyline sprays look hopeful and friendly. Cattle look
comfortable in the shade of a Keyline or Guideline timber
The planting of trees to fit in with the Keyline scheme of
things has been commenced. Results are not far advanced, but
good effects from the methods suggested are clearly indicated.
The rate of growth of these young Australian trees suitable
for the particular district, planted as suggested, is rapid.
It will not be long before a good "show" is seen,
Some difficulties in the location of fencing seemed apparent
earlier, Contour fencing was first thought to be necessary.
With Keyline there is, however, little advantage from contour
fencing. One placed along and below a Keyline may be useful or
along the top boundary of an irrigation area.
Some doubts may arise in the Keyline planning of difficult and
unusual areas. In these instances I have found it to be better
for a Common Keyline to be right in general than to be
influenced too much by a particular problem area. The problem
will soon disappear. If Keyline's diffusion and downhill from
the valley and "off-the-contour" type of cultivation is kept
in mind, no doubt a little "adjustment" to favour this aspect
will induce even absorption for the awkward spot.
Overall purposes need not be altered to suit Keyline. Keyline
will suit almost any land purposes desired.
A great deal of time was lost originally by too much
concentration on mechanical methods alone without realising
sufficiently the necessity of understanding the facts
concerning the life of the soil.
All sorts of experiments at adding something to the soil have
been conducted. Dolomite, lime, superphosphate, fertiliser and
trace elements were used.
An extraordinary thing has happened.
Without regard to what was added, on all areas where the
methods of Keyline Absorption-fertility were effectively
followed, there is, after two years, little noticeable
difference to be observed in the pastures from the various
treatments. Ail appear equally good. Some lucerne and clovers
showed definite signs of deficiency following conversion-year
Keyline cultivation, but twelve months later both were in a
lush, healthy condition.
I believe now that the requirements of the soil which are
provided by the various absorption processes must be supplied
before any deficiency tests can have real value. Trace
elements testing of poor grass lands will be greatly assisted
by first providing these absorption factors. If a deficiency
then is apparent it would in all probability be a true
indication of a definite need.
At the time of writing, glaring examples of right and wrong
methods are seen on my properties. Two poor soil paddocks,
both treated correctly for absorption-fertility and then sown
to a crop for mulching, were sown with pasture. One is growing
an excellent pasture, the other nothing but weed and rubbish.
The only difference I know of is in the aeration of one -- the
good pasture -- and lack of it in the other, which was left
surface sealed after heavy rain.
Many of my earlier failures of pasture and crops are now more
Relative pasture growth on land differing in cultivation
treatment only showed rates of growth in the spring of two
inches per day, against three-eighths of an inch per day. This
was the difference between Keyline Absorption-fertility and
shallow disc cultivation on my shale soil.
Last autumn the poor disc-sown pasture was Keyline cultivated
to improve the soil. The pasture is now improving rapidly.
By clearing areas generally considered too steep, much more
good timber and more pasture land is secured. The timber is
better spread over the property also and more useful for shade
The sowing methods mentioned have given excellent results.
Pasture seed sown with a flow medium through the combine with
the cultivating rows removed and planted in the moisture zone
produced a better result with one-third of the quantity of
seed than that which was earlier sown under conventional
I have mentioned the Graham Plow. There is no need to be
either reticent or boastful of the qualities and capacity of
the Graham Plow as the outstanding implement of progressive
soil development both crop and pasture land.
I felt that I knew, some years ago, just what type of
cultivation was necessary to give my soil the opportunity for
rapid development I designed and constructed several
implements to do this, and they did in fact, give a suitable
cultivation, but they were slow and costly in operation. They
were generally very strong and rigid. The design that enables
the Graham Plow to do so much so quickly and cheaply obtain:
its results from the absence of costly and ineffective
rigidity. The big shanks are springs, and each operates
against a coil spring, which produces an oscillating digging
effect. The result is instantaneous and continuous adjustment
to the varying pressures at the digging points.
The effectiveness of this double spring action has been tested
by comparison with the single spring of the shank, without the
coiled digging spring. I have found that the double spring is
at least one gear of the tractor more effective at the same
The safety effect on both the tractor and the implement of
this digging mechanism enables rougher country than could be
formally cultivated to be rapidly and very profitably
developed. Stump and boulder country can be converted to very
valuable farming and grass lands. When these are in the steep
country they protect the lower country from water run-off.
It is one of my misfortunes that I did not "discover" the
Graham until early in 1952.
As mentioned earlier, I do not fully subscribe to the belief
that food supply will become a critical shortage factor in
population trends Transport and exchange of food supply may
fail. The opposite effect, that of over-supply, is more likely
to pose a problem of production costs to the Australian
farmer. Here the greatly reduced costs of soil improvement for
crop yields and pastures that are effected by these methods
may be of vital importance. However, whether prices tend lower
or not, lower costs and higher yields from continually
improving soils are satisfactory aims themselves.
The Keyline plan is not old. It is barely three years since I
first visualised the Keyline as I looked up the steep valley
heads just below "Nevallan" Homestead. I had been wandering
about inspecting some work which had been completed that week.
My eldest son, Neville, had just arrived and walked down the
slope to me. I explained my new idea to him. We walked over
the hills of "Nevallan" until dark, picking out the position
of this "line". We became more excited about it, as we found
it to be a constant feature and not just something that was
peculiar to one or two valleys.
During the following year many family discussions developed
the theoretical and practical aspects of "the line". At first
it was seen simply as a cultivation guide which gave promise
as a means of developing poor erodable land without the usual
costly drain systems. We used to refer to Keyline cultivation
as "the valley method of cultivation". It was tried out as a
cultivation guide on a high steep paddock that had been
previously worked. We hoped for heavy rain to test its
efficiency. On a Sunday afternoon shortly afterwards heavy
rain commenced. With tremendous interest and indeed some
excitement we watched its effect while five inches of rain
fell. There was no damage. At no time during this storm did
water lie in the tine furrows of the cultivation. A dam
immediately below could have received any soil wash, but no
water reached it. The "Keylined" land absorbed it. On the
following Tuesday evening I noticed that the dam was filled,
but no one had seen water run into it.
The Keyline plan now is complete as a general or basic guide
for land development, but there is still a lot to be done.
Every method of agriculture which we have used is constantly
being critically examined to determine whether it gets its
result by extracting fertility or whether it conforms to.
Keyline's conception of ever-increasing fertility by
Many new ideas and techniques that were indicated by the
general course of the development of Keyline are now being
tested. These include such items as pest control, pasture
management, special sowing methods, and cheaper and more
effective means for soil testing. New methods in the use of
fertiliser and trace elements are showing great promise.
Very interesting results of various weed treatments and their
effect on soil and pasture have been noted. Some of these
weeds are likely to be of great importance and value in
rapidly improving very poor soils.
I have no doubt that with the emphasis on absorption-fertility
as much as on production, farmers and graziers will find many
new and better ways of contributing further life and value to
their Fertile Soil.
DURING the last few years we have had the pleasure of
welcoming many parties of visitors to "Nevallan" and
"Yobarnie". Included were groups of students, agriculturalists
and scientists, as well as many farmers and other friends.
Some Government agricultural officials have visited us, but as
"Keyline" was not then fully developed, no explanation of this
aspect of the work was discussed. Consequently, there has
been, at the time of writing, no official reference to
"Keyline". Every facility, however, will be afforded any
Government Department should it be interested in examining the
principles of the plan on the land where it was developed.
Also, if any other groups or organisations should wish to
examine the Keyline work, arrangements can usually be made to
suit their convenience. As we do not live on the properties,
facilities unfortunately are not available for casual
visitors. Visiting arrangements are made through the address
on the title page of this book.
It should also be mentioned that very little of the Keyline
development on "Nevallan" can be seen from the roads, and none
at all on "Yobarnie". There is actually less improvement in
soil fertility now on "Yobarnie" after 10 years work than
there is on "Nevallan" from two years of "Keyline"
improvements. "Yobarnie" still contains areas of poor soil
and, of course, some evidence of our earlier works. Keyline
development has started and soil improvement will probably now
Finally, to those farmers and graziers who will use all or any
of the "Keyline" technique of this book, I wish them success
and the same interest and satisfaction in the work of
improving their land that I have experienced in developing the
Keyline plan on "Nevallan".
THE DEVELOPMENT OF NARROW TYNED PLOWS FOR KEYLINE
The basic principles used in Keyline of increasing the
fertility of soils has not changed since they were first
described in The Keyline Plan published in 1954. What has
changed is the design of the cultivating equipment and the
modification of the techniques for soil building that the
newer designs have permitted.
The production of fertile soil from biologically inactive
subsoil is not difficult and one technique is well known. We
know that if sufficient quantities of dead vegetation and
animal manures are available for composting, and the composted
materials are blended into inert subsoils, rapid fertility can
For broadacre farming however, there is never sufficient waste
materials available. The soil and the soil life must be
managed to produce its own composting material. Keyline
techniques do just that and do it extremely well.
The Keyline processes for the enrichment of soil were actually
well developed before suitable implements were found that
would handle the job. Earth moving rippers were often used
because of my father's familiarity with such equipment.
Results with this equipment were sometimes spectacular,
sometimes disastrous. Rapid changes and improvements in soil
fertility levels were, however, being achieved with ever
increasing success. At that time a Graeme Hoeme Chisel plow
was imported into the country by a long time friend. This
design looked very promising and the implement was tried out.
It worked well and was commercially available.
In June of 1952 my father and I were in the United States on
another matter. While there, we called in at Louis Bromfield's
well documented "Malabar Farm". The techniques of Keyline had,
in my opinion, progressed well ahead of what was being done by
In Amarillo Texas we met Bill Graeme of the Graeme Hoeme
Chisel Plow Co. A deal was struck where by we made the plow
under their patent in Australia. The words and the concept
"chisel plow" were unknown in Australia in 1952. The patent
was found to be unenforceable in this country and so anybody
could copy the designs. This inevitably occurred as Keyline
ideas spread, so we were forced to go our own way. The plow
was strengthened considerably until it "could go any where the
farmer was game to take his tractor". That was my father's
design requirements and consequentially, mine too.
Keyline soil building techniques were then slightly restricted
by the limitations imposed by the plow itself and these are
the techniques described in the Keyline books.
The plow business was sold in April 1964, with a proviso that
P. A. Yeomans, and myself as the design engineer, had to keep
out of the agricultural machinery business for a minimum of
five years. The designs for a deep working, low disturbance
chisel plow with the strength characteristics of earth moving
rippers, a "sub soiler chisel plow" were moth balled.
They re-emerged, after this enforced hibernation, as the
"Bunyip Slipper Imp" with "Shakaerator". This implement won
the Prince Phillip Award for Australian Design in 1974.
The plow has an extremely strong, solid, rigid frame. The
tynes or shanks are made from cast tool steel. They are narrow
with a tapered leading edge. They travel through the soil with
very little resistance, like a sail boats fin. The separate
digging point is shaped like a long flat arrow head, tapering
out to about 4" (100 mm) wide at the rear. The digging angle
is very flat, only 8 degrees. A vertical "splitter fin" is
incorporated on the top face, and becomes a vertical blade to
the arrow head. In use, and in deep cultivation, the splitter
fin initiates a vertical crack through the soil above, up to
the surface. The side blades lift and loosen the earth between
the shanks, and then allow it to re-settle. No mixing occurs
between soil profiles and root disturbance is insignificant
and gentle. After cultivation, the ground surface often
appears as if undisturbed, yet is strangely spongy to walk on.
The Shakaerator is an off set heavy fly wheel, bolted to the
plow frame, that assists soil shattering and reduces tractor
horse power requirements in most soil types.
By then I had my own independent engineering business, and by
constraint, not in agriculture. This was where the new plow
prototypes were built. After my father's death in 1984, my
company took over the complete manufacture of the plow.
Improvements continued and six new patents have subsequently
been issued. Three of which have won implement design awards
at the Australian National Field Days.
The rapid soil building processes of Keyline were no longer
restricted by the use of chisel plows, and the techniques were
In addition, the use of this new plow enables the soil to
absorb high quantities of run off from storms, and heavy
downpores. This is the runoff that normally fills dams, and
can often cause erosion. These effects have be catered for in
the design of whole farm layouts. Greater emphasis is now
placed on the location and size of the first dam constructed.
This first dam now tends to be of greater capacity than
previous designs called for. Fewer and larger farm dams now
prove to be economically more viable. This first dam is sized
and placed to so enhance the returns to the farm, that future
dams can become self financing by the farm itself. My brother
Ken has developed computer simulation design techniques by
which such decisions can be idealised. Design errors are
virtually eliminated in the process, and financial and
ecological viability can be assured.
The Keyline soil building process is now much more rapid with
the use of this plow. Many clones of the plow have now been
produced, often with interchangeable components, and if used
correctly these plows can be equally effective.
The real value, almost one might say, the cash value of a soil
is determined, firstly by the basic mineralisation within the
soil. This is ordained by its geological history and
formation. The farmer is not able to change this, outside the
addition of some exotic trace elements. And the second
determining factor, is the amount of humic acids within the
soil, their age and their stability. The fulvic acids are here
considered as subvarieties of the humic acids. If both
abundant minerals and abundant humic acid is present, the soil
is acknowledged as basically rich. Farming can, and does,
change the content of humic acid within the soil. Most classic
current farming practices in the Western World decrease the
humic acid content of soils. The resulting soil deterioration
manifests itself as, increasing dependency on chemical inputs,
increased erosion and rising salinity levels.
To produce good crops in rich soils it is generally only
necessary to maintain, within the soil, reasonable levels of
Humic acid is not a simple acid, like hydrochloric acid or
sulphuric acid. Humic acid is hardly an acid at all. When
organic matter has been through all the biological processes
within the soil, very large, relatively stable organic
molecules are the ultimate result. Their formation is
extremely haphazard and their actual chemical composition can
have millions of variations. They are mildly acidic and so
collectively they are described as "humic acid". Individual
molecules can contain thousands of carbon atoms. They are so
big that they can be acidic on one side and alkaline a little
further around the same molecule.
For the farmer they have two very important characteristics.
For a plant to take up an element for its growth, it must be
in an available form. However, if the elements in the soil
were in soluble form, they would have long since been washed,
or leached away. Something else therefor, must occur for
plants to exist at all. When acids break down basic geological
minerals, nutritious soluble chemical elements become
available, and these, fortunately, attach themselves loosely
to the highly variable outer surface of the humic acid
molecules. The element is no longer soluble, but it is readily
available to the tiny root structures of plants and fungi. As
far as a plant is concerned, the humic acid molecule is a
supermarket, and its outer surface is the richly stocked
Carbon dioxide dissolved in rainwater forms carbonic acid.
This carbonic acid breaks down the fine rock particles,
replenishing the shelves in the supermarket. Also, biological
activity within the soil can produce tiny quantities of acids,
a thousand times stronger than the carbonic acid of rain
water. These acids make available to the surface of the humic
acid molecule, elements that would otherwise be totally
inaccessible or unavailable.
If the soil is devoid of biological activity, and the minerals
in the soil have been used up by growing crops,
re-mineralisation of the soil can only be achieved by the much
slower use of carbonic acid derived from rain water. I believe
this to be a considerable, although unrecognised,
justification for the "long fallow". It takes a long fallow,
or simply a long time, to re-stock the shelves in the
supermarket. When only minimum biological activity can occur,
then the concept of "resting the soil", starts to make sense.
Humic acid molecules can last thousands of years, and these
were described in German literature as "Dauerhurnus" (dauer -
German and endure - English). The long lived dauerhumus does
not itself form part of soil biological activity. Other humic
acid molecules however, do form that are much less stable.
They can last anywhere from minutes to months. These molecules
can, and do, get involved in biological activity. They
contain, within themselves, protein and other similar
structures containing nitrogen, as also do the long lived
variety. Soil biological activity breaks down the short lived
molecules and release a constant, and harmless trickle of
ammonia to the fine plant roots, invigorating plant growth.
This is "Nahrhumus", (nahr to nourish). Almost all of the
nitrogen supplied to plants in healthy soil, is derived from
this organic material within the soil.
It is well known that total soil organic matter constantly
decreases with mono-cropping, and by the use of soluble
chemical fertilisers, almost all of which kill earthworms and
destroy microbiological soil life. The organic matter content
decreases over periods, usually in excess of thirty years, and
up to one hundred years, to a level of about half that in the
original soil. Then a stability seems to be attained. This, it
is claimed, proves that chemical agriculture does not continue
to decrease soil fertility. I tend to believe that most
biological activity has already ceased, and the organic
matter, still in evidence by high temperature soil testing,
exists only in the form of dauerhumus. These then are the
extremely stable, but now empty, supermarket shelves.
So many problems are solved simply by increasing soil's
natural fertility. And it all starts with dead plant material,
air and water. Activity then starts, bacteria, fungi,
actinomycetes and worms devour the dead plant material, die,
and in turn devour each other. In the process, concentrated
acids are produced that break down tiny rock structures,
making available crucial elements in the life cycle. Complex
humic acid molecules are ultimately formed. Some are broken
down by more biological activity, producing ammonia for plant
growth. Around others, the soluble newly released element
become attached, but still available for healthy plant growth.
Long chains of sugar like chemicals, polysaccharides, food
stores for bacteria, are formed that bind the soil together.
The tiny root like structures of fungi bind the soil particles
in the same way. Small aggregates of these soil particles and
sand and clays accumulate. In our hand we feel the whole thing
as good soil structure.
Pieces of the less stable humic materials reform, and reform
again until ultimately, relatively stable humic acid molecules
are created. As the total organic content rises, earthworms
move in and establish themselves. Their casts are a rich
source of humus and their slimes and glues enhance soil
structure. The soils ability to retain moisture, its "field
capacity", rises dramatically and, to the farmer, rainfall
patterns become less critical. This intense biological
activity is the necessary "bio" in "biodegradable". Soluble
heavy metals, poisons, become attached to the humic acid
molecule and are no longer in solution and a threat. They
won't be selected by the plants' discerning fine root
Food producing plants grown on such soils are healthy, mineral
rich and nutritious, and extremely resistant to insect attack.
Weeds and non-food producing plants cannot compete in rich
soils. This is not just accidental but logically inevitable.
For this all to happen, we must first structure an ideal soil
environment, and then, if we can, we should water it.
The most rapid increase in soil fertility, and soil organic
content in broadacre farming, is obtained by the utilisation,
and the growth manipulation, of the legumes and grasses. The
current model of Yeomans Plow was designed specifically, so
that its use would create this idealised environment.
If conventional chisel plows are used to an excessive depth,
for subsoil aeration and rain water retention, destructive
mixing of soil layers results. For this reason, chisel plow
use in Keyline required a program in which cultivation was
only progressively deepened. Depth of cultivation was
determined by taking a spade, and checking the depth of the
root structures resulting from the previous cultivation. Tine
spacings were kept at 12" (300 mm).
Because of the resultant damage to existing pastures, it was
often risky, and it was not advised to cultivate when pasture
grasses were in short supply, or when approaching a period of,
possibly, hot dry conditions.
Using these new implements we can now recommend an initial
cultivation depth of 8" (200 mm) or more. Any less than 6"
deep the cultivating effect is similar to a chisel plow, with
a typical V shaped rip mark of loose earth being formed. If a
hard pan exists, and conditions are dry, large clods can still
be turned up. By increasing the depth of cultivation, a point
will be reached where clods are not produced at all.
Horizontal fracturing spreads sideways from the plough point
and surface disturbance is minimal.
Tyne spacings should be much wider than would be recommended
for chisel plows. 24" (600 mm) spacings are perfectly
reasonable. 18" to 20" (about half a metre) would be a good
general guide. If horsepower is limited, it is wiser to
maintain the cultivation depth, and, if necessary, decrease
the number of tynes being used. In this way little pasture
damage occurs, good deep aeration has been achieved, and
enormous quantities of storm rains can be absorbed before any
run off occurs. Even with no following rain, very little soil
moisture will be lost. In many instances plant roots will gain
access to otherwise unavailable subsoil moisture.
The subsequent grass growth should be mown, or heavily grazed
by overstocking to achieve the same effect. Stock should be
removed promptly to permit rapid unhindered regrowth of the
more nourishing pasture grasses. Subsequent cultivation should
be repeated at or about the same depth. These Keyline stocking
techniques are detailed elsewhere.
Within weeks of the first cultivation the decomposition of
cast off root structures, following mowing or grazing, can
promote soil colour changes from biological activity deep in
the subsoil. This is quite impossible using a conventional
Cultivation, prior to cropping, using this plow at these
depths invariably and dramatically increases crop yields.
These dramatic increases are not always permanent. I believe
that the dramatic increases result from exploiting soil
layers, that have been "fallowing" for hundreds or even
thousands of years. The minerals having accumulated on clay
particles, as they do on the humic acid molecules. The
dramatic increase in crop yields can only be maintained, by
the inclusion of grasses and legumes into the cropping
programs. This is to promote biological activity, and thus
maintain the supply of minerals and elements.
Again; So many problems are solved simply by increasing soil
Allan I. Yeomans
Plate 1: Meditation. At the High Contour dam on
Plate 2: Aerial view of "Nevallan" homestead,with High
Contour dam in the top left-hand corner of the picture.
This dam, which is filled by drains, collectes its water
from the roads and yards of the homestead area. It has
4-inch outlets through the end walls.
Plate 3: Sons, Ken (left) and Neville, in a newly
planted strip of Tallow-wood trees. Trees were six inches
high when planted in the Spring and the picture was taken
in the following Autumn. The strip contains approximately
1000 trees (vide Chapter 8). Tallow-woods are not
indigenous to our district, but are doing well to date.
Plate 4: A 10-foot Graham Chisel Plow and Crawler used
for developing steep country up to 100% slope.
Plate 5: "Conversion-year" cultivation and erosion holes
plowed out by the "Graham". "Pelican Rest" dam, built
before Keyline was originated, has a 4-inch outlet.
Plate 6: Clearing, March, 1952, on "Nevallan".
Coloured Plate 4 in Chapter 5 was taken near the log in
Plate 7: The same paddock as in Plate 6, nearly two
Plate 8: Son Allan takes a picture of a rogue. Timber
strip is of gums and narrow leaf iron bark. Pasture
contains clovers, lucerne, cocksfoot, etc. (Not
irrigated.) "Nevallan", March, 1954.
Plate 9: Jack Matters and a rabbitproof flood-gate he
built. Held down with rocks, flood-gate swings out with
the floods. Jack is in charge of the two properties.
Plate 10: "Nevallan" boundary fence.
Rabbitproof flood-gates and fences are essential in
Australia for the maximum development of soil fertility.
Plate 11: A Keyline dam near "Nevallan" Homestead. This
dam is replenished, when required, from "Four Fathoms" dam
by means of a 4-inch outlet and drain.
Plate 12: The 4-inch outlet of the above dam and the
"manpower" required to operate it. A pipeline which is
coupled directly to this outlet permits spray irrigation
of the lower areas without pumping costs.
Plate 13: These trees are growing in near forest
conditions. My wife and small son are the figures in the
timber strip,which is a chain wide.
Plate 14: Steep pasture land just below
"Nevallan" Homestead. Cattle are Herford steers. The area
was "Keyline cultivated" six months earlier.
Plate 15: "Nevallan" Homestead
Plate 16: Allan's wife, Beverley, looking down Kenvale
Valley, formerly eroded. Note lines of "Keyline
Cultivation" for soil and pasture improvements on the
Plate 17: Four weeks later, shows growth covering
Keyline cultivation lines. Jack Matter's sons, Norman and
Dennis in the foreground.
Plate 18: Lower paddock on "Nevallan". It has been
Graham plowed and pasture sown.
Plate 19: Small tractor and mounted Graham Plow. This
combination does the cultivation work on "Nevallan"
Plate 20: Shows the same area as seen in Plate 18, near
the trees in the middle distance, 12 months later.
Shorthorn steers on year-old pasture in Goondiwindi
paddock. "Nevallan". Above the fence in the picture can be
seen the stirp of newly planted Tallow-woods (shown in
Plate 3), with five tree rows in the strip of 1000 trees.
Plate 21: An Australian Bush Scene--"Nevallan".
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