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Before and After Keyline
BRIEFLY recorded here are some experiences and incidents that wereassociated with the development of the Keyline plan.
Between the years 1943 and 1950, the experiments which I carried outon my properties were based on my own experiences, coupled with some of the methodsrecommended by the Soil Conservation Services of America. The use of contours andgently failing drains are not the particular invention of soil conservationists butwere used thousands of years before the modern understanding of soil erosion. Myuse of these land engineering principles then followed more closely those of themining and construction engineer than the soil conservationist.
For a few years following 1944, the Geography Department of the Universityof Sydney took some interest in the work which I was doing., Geography students usedthe property for some time for practical map reading and survey instrument exercises.Their work was later coordinated by the Geography Department into a complete contourmap of the area. This map has been of considerable value.
Where formerly only week-end work on my part was possible, in 1948more was to be done. That year a qualified geographer was employed by me. As partof 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 constructionof many miles of drains built with all types of implements from the smallest ditchersto the largest tandem drive road graders. As far as I am concerned, they were allvaluable 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 nowgiven way to Keyline.
It is, however, worth while recording the last system of soil conservationdrains which were built during 1951.
This last area was badly gullied and surface eroded. Still believingthat 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 problemsof erosion had disappeared. The valleys of the area all drained to a rocky creekfalling to the east at a slope of 50 feet to the mile. In order to bring the surpluswater from the drains closer to the creek, all drains of the system--except one--flowedor 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 samecreek when this drain was carried across three valleys.
This greatly assisted the safe disposal of water without the grassedwaterways of orthodox soil conservation.
To complete the stabilisation of all the valleys and their problemgullies, it was only necessary for me to start work on the most easterly gully andtransfer the water from this valley to the next valley westward. With the first valleystabilised, 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 eastend of the area protected a series of small valley heads and transferred the waterto a dam. The second drain broke the velocity of water from the steep valley headsand protected the larger valley into which these flowed. All the lower drains furtherensured the safety of the whole area.
These details are given for two reasons. Firstly, the layout of thedrains 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 excellentlayout. 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 wasoriginated. The whole drain system was later plowed out and Keyline development instituted.The extreme western area, where drains were not constructed, was developed solelyon Keyline. The work took little time, and cost approximately one-tenth of the workwhich had been done at the other end of the area.
This fine system of drains was never required. None of these drainsis left except those which transport water to the dams. Not only was Keyline worka fraction of the cost of the other development, but in itself was much more effectivein building the soil. By instituting Keyline cultivation for absorption-fertility,erosion was immediately controlled, but the Keyline work itself was a part of ordinaryfarming. Keyline work in these circumstances costs nothing.
Ten years ago, when the first system of sloping drains and banks wasstarted, I begrudged seeing water leaving the property, knowing it ,would almostcertainly be needed in a few weeks. The absorption banks and pasture furrows of orthodoxconservation 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 thanthese works would permit. I did not use either the absorption bank or the pasturefurrow. A programme of contour deep ripping was started instead to keep the wateron the farm. Ninety and one-hundred-and-twenty horsepower crawler tractors were usedand hundreds of acres were deeply ripped. Furrows were 24 and 36 inches apart. Someof my deep ripping experiments are recorded in "Soil Erosion in Australia andNew Zealand," by Prof. J. Macdonald Holmes, Ph.D. Contour deep ripping is mentionedlater.
Some years ago I used the "silt dam" and "stone checkwalls" of soil conservation to catch some of my own soil. The area above thesestructures has now been "Keylined" and the stone check walls removed. Thesestructures are not used in Keyline except to "check" soil and water flowingonto a farm from another area.
The technique of Keyline conversion-year cultivation to convert poorland rapidly to absorption-fertility methods is vouched for from experience. Thelow cost continuance of the methods, following conversion-year cultivation with theimplements 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 developmentthat quickly increases both soil fertility and actual depth of fertile soil are completelysatisfactory.
Deep ripping on the contour 9 or 10 years ago was at first thoughtto be worthwhile. Now I know that with the big rippers and high power I employedthis 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 developmentmethods.
Here I stress the fact that this work was not on small plots, butcovered hundreds of acres.
The Keyline development of valleys has stood the test of rainfallof near our district's maximum intensity--Richmond, N.S.W. Twenty-two inches of rainin six days, eight inches falling on the sixth day, gave an unexpected test to alarge area of new work without damage. Two feet depth of water on this sixth dayflowed down a newly Keyline cultivated valley. The heavy, wet-plowed soil on itsrough chiselled bottom did not move. If this bottom had been of even, all-over depthfrom ordinary cultivation, a heavy soil loss would have resulted.
I had experience of the control, conservation and transport of wateras a mining engineer. This experience has been the real background of my work inland development. For the conservation of water on my property, I constructed 10years ago the first "high dam", which we call Quarry Dam, with a 4-inchpipe 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 fromthe road into this dam after little rainfall which will not cause waterflow anywhereon the property. A main line and spray lines from this dam give completely effectiveand low cost spray irrigation on an adjacent lower paddock. Good crop or high pastureyields can be produced any time without pumping the water for spray irrigation. Sixdams on my properties have pipe and valve outlets through the walls. Five dams arefilled by water-collecting drains. Some of the dams can be filled from larger damsby turning a 4-inch gate valve. These earlier water conservation works are now streamlinedin Keyline planning with the proper placing of the dams of the Keyline plan and thelogical fixing of Irrigation areas.
Working originally without the Keyline plan, much clearing was donebefore I realised the value of planned clearing. Later on timber strips from 30 to70 feet wide were left along contours. This idea now has a very definite and logicalpart in Keyline planning.
I have Keyline dams in use with irrigation outlets from which a turnof a 4-inch valve starts a line of sprays. Keyline timber strips are flourishingwith 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 betterpasture, and much better tree growth in the timber strip has resulted.
Slopes with a fall of one in three were first Keylined. Then slopesto one in one were Keyline improved. These have had the test of heavy rains withoutdamage and now grow improving pastures.
The clearing of timber from valleys was decided on and practised someyears ago. This was done doubtfully at first, but all experience since confirms thepractice. A Keyline or Guideline timber strip can cross a valley as part of a stripand presents no problems. These timber strips are thriving on the property.
Keyline cultivation in its use for improving soil for pasture improvementis outstandingly beneficial. Very steep slopes which I once believed impossible ofeconomic improvement are handled simply and profitably.
A valley on, my farm, shaped like an amphitheatre, formed by the joiningof 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 workingof Keyline cultivation completely transformed this valley. The water and reedy rubbishdisappeared 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-rapidwater run. It was of no use or value and looked ugly. Five stone check walls or soil-savingdams were put in to stop the damage and save some soil. Immediately following theKeyline idea the area above was Keyline cultivated and a crop sown. The stone checkswere removed from the valley and with the rest of the strip it received one workingwith 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 shouldersof the valley get their share of the moisture which the steep valley formerly drewfrom them. They are growing good pasture.
Two areas of poor sandy soil with plenty of rocks came up for improvementa few years ago. The first area was protected with a well-designed layout of contourbanks and drains. Heavy rain brought us out at 2 a.m. to watch the drains work. Weworked all night but eventually breaks in the banks of the poor sandy soil won. Laterthey were repaired and worked, but were always a worry, especially in heavy rainat 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 areaKeyline cultivated. The postponed area was Keyline cultivated and sown. Heavy rainno longer causes any worry--it can only do good.
As mentioned, many miles of banks and drains that formerly workedwell in moving water safely off some areas have been ploughed out. We now keep thewater in the land. Rain outside our absorption and conservation capacity moves offsafely along the country's natural flow lines.
The only drains ever needed on our undulating to steeply undulatingcountry were water conservation drains that transport water for storage or transportstored 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. Itis 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 soilsin 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 developmentin the last few years. It took me years to realise this advantage. If wrong methodsare used on the clays they become apparent, when the signs can be read, within aseason. Wrong methods on fertile soil may not manifest themselves for a decade ortwo. 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 generallytrue 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 anotherpaddock did not do so. Both paddocks carried the same soil type (shale clay), butthe one with the sticky soil was nearly a year behind in Keyline Absorption-fertilitydevelopment.
Our shale and sandstone soils resemble each other a little more closelyas they improve. The shale is becoming friable, looser and crumbier while the sandstoneis developing some "body". Both are becoming darker.
Last year a portion of a paddock was deliberately over-cultivatedduring experiments with various types of cultivating points. The areas both aboveand below this paddock were more correctly cultivated. Results of development andgrowth on the over-cultivated area was watched following the sowing of the wholearea. Germination was generally good. The first effect noticed was slight soil movementon the over-cultivated area. Growth here was not noticeably poorer, in fact all growthwas apparently good.
Large numbers of crows were seen flying over the over-cultivated landand 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 hisown favourite poison. I disapproved and said that we would watch to see what wouldhappen. Both men forecast rapid destruction for all the pastures, particularly theadjoining ones above and below. Two weeks later the pasture on the over-cultivatedland was gone. However, of the cutworms that infested it in millions, not one couldbe found on the other areas. The cutworms disappeared without having been seen anywhereelse.
On the face of this, it appears that the over-cultivation was theonly factor that influenced the course of the infestation. However, this may be toomuch to deduce from the isolated nature of the occurrence. The fact that I expectedthe cutworms to stay in the over-cultivated area may just be coincidence. I do notbelieve, however, that the happening was extraordinary; I believe it was a simplematter of cause and effect.
The infested area, overcultivated as it was, surface sealed to a markedextent with the rain, and the first evidence of something wrong was seen in smallerosion gutters in a few places as mentioned.
The cure for this strip of soil, although it was at first too finefrom over-cultivation, was further cultivation. But this time the sealed surfacewas worked once with spikes two feet apart. There is a sufficient pasture growthagain apparent to ensure a good pasture with correct treatment. There was also heavyresultant growth of weeds, which were mulched mowed prior to the cultivation.
In the process of finding a few right answers, a remarkably comprehensiveknowledge of what not to do was acquired.
Efforts have been made to pose land-use and land-development problemsto the Keyline methods. This led to the conclusion that my own properties presentedas many problems as any other properties examined. With the simple solution of manyapparent problems, the scope and usefulness of the whole system of Keyline has extendedand broadened. Now it seems that forest, town, region and state planning will beassisted as well by Keyline consideration.
A study of Keyline principles generally is greatly assisted by accuratelydrawn contour farm maps. These, however, are rare. The few Australian farmers whohave them are asked, as a great favour, to make their maps available to me for copyingand study. The contour maps required for my purposes need to be accurately drawnof the valley regions. Contours only roughly interpolated are not of use.
A great deal of satisfaction is experienced in the developing andimproving of the property seen from Keyline work. The satisfaction is always tingedwith impatience to see the next result.
Where Keyline timber strips are seen there is a very definite "newlook" to this landscape.
Ordinary things like weather have a different aspect. Heavy rain ora fierce thunderstorm is a welcome experience. It will not now damage any part ofthe land; it must do good. Even a long dry spell is an interesting test of the moisture-holdingcapacity on an earlier Keylined paddock.
Following 440 points of rain in six months, one paddock not Keylinetreated was dry and dead; another one first Keyline cultivated nearly two years beforewas growing green grass.
The possibility of damage from a bushfire is greatly diminished. Thehazard paddocks Keyline cleared can be ploughed, cropped or hard stocked to protectthe rest of the property from a fire danger area.
A dry, hot and oppressive day is bearable if a pool of water is visiblewith 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 thingshas been commenced. Results are not far advanced, but good effects from the methodssuggested are clearly indicated. The rate of growth of these young Australian treessuitable for the particular district, planted as suggested, is rapid. It will notbe 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 beuseful or along the top boundary of an irrigation area.
Some doubts may arise in the Keyline planning of difficult and unusualareas. In these instances I have found it to be better for a Common Keyline to beright in general than to be influenced too much by a particular problem area. Theproblem will soon disappear. If Keyline's diffusion and downhill from the valleyand "off-the-contour" type of cultivation is kept in mind, no doubt a little"adjustment" to favour this aspect will induce even absorption for theawkward spot.
Overall purposes need not be altered to suit Keyline. Keyline willsuit almost any land purposes desired.
A great deal of time was lost originally by too much concentrationon mechanical methods alone without realising sufficiently the necessity of understandingthe facts concerning the life of the soil.
All sorts of experiments at adding something to the soil have beenconducted. 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 ofKeyline 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 deficiencyfollowing conversion-year Keyline cultivation, but twelve months later both werein a lush, healthy condition.
I believe now that the requirements of the soil which are providedby the various absorption processes must be supplied before any deficiency testscan have real value. Trace elements testing of poor grass lands will be greatly assistedby first providing these absorption factors. If a deficiency then is apparent itwould in all probability be a true indication of a definite need.
At the time of writing, glaring examples of right and wrong methodsare seen on my properties. Two poor soil paddocks, both treated correctly for absorption-fertilityand then sown to a crop for mulching, were sown with pasture. One is growing an excellentpasture, the other nothing but weed and rubbish. The only difference I know of isin the aeration of one--the good pasture--and lack of it in the other, which wasleft surface sealed after heavy rain.
Many of my earlier failures of pasture and crops are now more clearlyunderstood.
Relative pasture growth on land differing in cultivation treatmentonly showed rates of growth in the spring of two inches per day, against three-eighthsof an inch per day. This was the difference between Keyline Absorption-fertilityand shallow disc cultivation on my shale soil.
Last autumn the poor disc-sown pasture was Keyline cultivated to improvethe soil. The pasture is now improving rapidly.
By clearing areas generally considered too steep, much more good timberand more pasture land is secured. The timber is better spread over the property alsoand more useful for shade and protection.
The sowing methods mentioned have given excellent results. Pastureseed sown with a flow medium through the combine with the cultivating rows removedand planted in the moisture zone produced a better result with one-third of the quantityof seed than that which was earlier sown under conventional methods.
I have mentioned the Graham Plow. There is no need to be either reticentor boastful of the qualities and capacity of the Graham Plow as the outstanding implementof progressive soil development both crop and pasture land.
I felt that I knew, some years ago, just what type of cultivationwas necessary to give my soil the opportunity for rapid development I designed andconstructed several implements to do this, and they did in fact, give a suitablecultivation, but they were slow and costly in operation. They were generally verystrong and rigid. The design that enables the Graham Plow to do so much so quicklyand 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 producesan oscillating digging effect. The result is instantaneous and continuous adjustmentto the varying pressures at the digging points.
The effectiveness of this double spring action has been tested bycomparison 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 effectiveat the same digging depth.
The safety effect on both the tractor and the implement of this diggingmechanism enables rougher country than could be formally cultivated to be rapidlyand very profitably developed. Stump and boulder country can be converted to veryvaluable farming and grass lands. When these are in the steep country they protectthe lower country from water run-off.
It is one of my misfortunes that I did not "discover" theGraham until early in 1952.
As mentioned earlier, I do not fully subscribe to the belief thatfood supply will become a critical shortage factor in population trends Transportand exchange of food supply may fail. The opposite effect, that of over-supply, ismore likely to pose a problem of production costs to the Australian farmer. Herethe greatly reduced costs of soil improvement for crop yields and pastures that areeffected by these methods may be of vital importance. However, whether prices tendlower or not, lower costs and higher yields from continually improving soils aresatisfactory aims themselves.
The Keyline plan is not old. It is barely three years since I firstvisualised 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 completedthat week. My eldest son, Neville, had just arrived and walked down the slope tome. 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 excitedabout it, as we found it to be a constant feature and not just something that waspeculiar to one or two valleys.
During the following year many family discussions developed the theoreticaland practical aspects of "the line". At first it was seen simply as a cultivationguide which gave promise as a means of developing poor erodable land without theusual costly drain systems. We used to refer to Keyline cultivation as "thevalley method of cultivation". It was tried out as a cultivation guide on ahigh steep paddock that had been previously worked. We hoped for heavy rain to testits efficiency. On a Sunday afternoon shortly afterwards heavy rain commenced. Withtremendous interest and indeed some excitement we watched its effect while five inchesof rain fell. There was no damage. At no time during this storm did water lie inthe tine furrows of the cultivation. A dam immediately below could have receivedany 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 hadseen water run into it.
The Keyline plan now is complete as a general or basic guide for landdevelopment, but there is still a lot to be done.
Every method of agriculture which we have used is constantly beingcritically examined to determine whether it gets its result by extracting fertilityor whether it conforms to. Keyline's conception of ever-increasing fertility by absorption.
Many new ideas and techniques that were indicated by the general courseof the development of Keyline are now being tested. These include such items as pestcontrol, pasture management, special sowing methods, and cheaper and more effectivemeans for soil testing. New methods in the use of fertiliser and trace elements areshowing great promise.
Very interesting results of various weed treatments and their effecton soil and pasture have been noted. Some of these weeds are likely to be of greatimportance and value in rapidly improving very poor soils.
I have no doubt that with the emphasis on absorption-fertility asmuch as on production, farmers and graziers will find many new and better ways ofcontributing further life and value to their Fertile Soil.