THE KEYLINE PLAN
P. A. Yeomans
537 ELIZABETH STREET
Homage to P.A. Yeomans
Chapter 1 Keyline--A New
Chapter 2 Absorption--The
Chapter 3 Fertility--The
Chapter 4 Keyline
Chapter 5 Soil Improvement
on Pasture Lands
Chapter 6 Common Keylines
and Keyline Land Units
Chapter 7 Water Storage
Chapter 8 Trees
Chapter 9 Steep Country and
Chapter 10 Flatter Lands
Chapter 11 Other
Chapter 12 The Plan
Chapter 13 Floods or
Chapter 14 Before and
Addendum by Allan Yeomans
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
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
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
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 agricultural
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
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. Yeomans:
"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 Guinea.
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
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
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 soils.
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
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
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 economically unsound.
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
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
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 area.
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 clear.
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 permanent point.
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 contour
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
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 valley.
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 valleys.
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 quite clearly.
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 Keyline.
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
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
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 ridge.
(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 the valleys.
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 violence.
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
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 it downward.
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
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 yields.
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 property.
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 system.
"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
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 development.
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 years.
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 by
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 farming.
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
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 time.
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
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
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 fertility.
Man and his machines can stimulate decay and growth tremendously.
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
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
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 strip.
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 humus.
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 activities.
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 factors.
Past cultivation habits have destroyed soil fertility to the stage
where vast quantities of once valuable soil have been lost by
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 winds.
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 decay.
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 simultaneous.
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 impoverished foods.
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
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
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 trees.
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 land.
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
Deep-rooted plants and grasses will all root deeper if the soil is
developed fully, and will bring minerals toward the surface.
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 soil
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
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 quantities.
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
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
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
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 desired.
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
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 complete
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 available.
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
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
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 this
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 turn.
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 discussed.
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
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 treatment.
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
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 foliage.
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 a factor.
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 seeded.
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 chisels only.
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 is
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 habits.
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
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 -- yet.
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
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 was originally.
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
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 again.
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
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
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 process.
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 entirely
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
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 improved fourfold.
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
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
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 pastures.
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 fertiliser.
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 yields.
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
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 years.
By improving top soil fertility, actual improvement of soil depth
may take place very slowly, but the pastures tend to "run-out".
Such pasture treated by the Keyline method for soil and pasture
improvement will produce rapid and permanent soil and pasture
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
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 followed.
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 Keyline.
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 crosses.
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
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
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
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 necessary.
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 Keyline.
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
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
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 importance.
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 use them.
The application of Keyline methods requires very little levelling
work, but those levels that it does require are of great
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 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 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 purposes.
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
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 programme.
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 special
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
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 wall material.
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 them.
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
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 together.
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
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 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
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
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 "Flatter Lands".
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
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 land.
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
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
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 through fluming.
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 ignored.
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
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 in
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
Steep country is not left in full timber, but partially cleared
and timber strips are left to serve as wind protection for the
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
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 timber belt.
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
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 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 secured.
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 timber.
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
Continue this contour marking, both above and below the Keyline.
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 area.
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 devised.
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 attention.
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
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 watering later.
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
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
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 stock damage.''
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
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
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 steeper lands.
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 these lands.
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 do
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
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
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
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 particularly
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
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 the
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
Our droughts and flooding rains are factors of prime importance in
the loss of fertility and later in soil losses by erosion.
The effects of both are capable of profit producing control, by
the absorption of fertility into the soil of the hill lands.
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
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 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 time.
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 repair
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 practically safe.
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
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
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 cease altogether.
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 valley.
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 valley.
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
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 General Guideline.
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 General Guideline.
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
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 quantities.
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
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
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 development.
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
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 valleys.
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 depressions.
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 method.
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
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
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 or co-ordination.
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 profit.
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 watersheds.
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
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
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
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
On this plan rapid Keyline development of this first area should
pay for the progressive development of a large undeveloped area of
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 necessary
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
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 boundary.
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 country.
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
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
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 pumped water.
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 the property.
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 dam.
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 country.
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 against
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
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 additional profit.
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 river?
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 the floods.
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 rains.
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 Valley.
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 again.
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
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" lacks
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 fertility.
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 Fertile Soil.
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 conservationist.
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 Keyline.
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
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
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 another area.
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
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
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
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 the property.
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
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
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 soil.
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
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 anywhere
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 effect.
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
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
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 Keyline
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
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 result.
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
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 strip.
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
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 and
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 methods.
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 digging depth.
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
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 absorption.
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
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
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 be rapid.
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
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 occur.
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 biological
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 shelves.
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
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
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
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 chisel plow.
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 "Nevallan".
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 this picture.
Plate 7: The same paddock as in Plate 6, nearly two years
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",
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 left.
Plate 17: Four weeks later, shows growth covering Keyline
cultivation lines. Jack Matter's sons, Norman and Dennis in
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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