The Aims of Keyline


   THE Keyline plan is a plan for the development of agriculturalland based, first, on my own conception of what soil is, how it developed naturallyand how it can be further developed, and, secondly, on the climate and the land shapeof each individual property on which the plan is applied.

   It is based on a belief that the ordinary pursuits of farmingand grazing are in themselves the means of inducing an ever-increasing fertilityin the soil. The techniques of the Keyline plan have been developed to this end.

   The aim of the Keyline plan then is to improve all farming andgrazing lands by reversing the tendency of land to deteriorate under man's occupancy--makingit stable and permanent in a generally improving landscape. Its aim is to improveany agricultural soil, from. the poorer soils right through to the richest of soils,to far beyond that which originally developed naturally in the particular climaticenvironment. The development of soil in nature from dead earth and rock may haveoccupied considerable periods of time. Man, with little time, fortunately has manymeans or processes by which he can rapidly improve any natural soil. It. is consideredthat the most logical or fundamental approach to soil improvement is through processeswhich are aimed directly toward improving the effect which the general climate hason the soil climate. Every technique of the Keyline plan is designed to improve thesoil's climate against the background of the general climatic conditions which affectit and which have largely created the soil.

   The Keyline plan was developed in New South Wales, Australia,and its development has probably been influenced by the general conditions as theyapply to most of our agricultural land. Since Keyline is based upon a study of climateand land shape, it therefore fits in a practical manner any type of agriculturalland. However, its various techniques will be employed on a wider scale in the broaderaspects of agriculture embraced in the cereal crop, sheep and cattle country in Australiaand other lands.

   While Keyline rejects the wholly or dominantly chemical or artificialfertiliser approach of generally orthodox agriculture, it finds great value in someartificials from a new or unorthodox approach. While Keyline is not classed as organicfarming, it employs natural means of soil development with great benefit.

   The orthodox methods of pasture improvement are not Keyline.Keyline obtains accelerated and greater pasture improvement by an emphasis on soilimprovement, using pasture and improving pasture in the process.

   It does not follow the approach or make use of the methods ofsoil conservation, because the Keyline technique has the effect of improving soilrapidly and curing and preventing soil erosion. It preserves and holds the naturalshape of land by improving the climatic environment of the soil. It prevents fertilityerosion of good soil by increasing soil fertility. Soil erosion then ceases to bea factor requiring special consideration.

   The plan aims generally at conserving as much water in the soilfrom each rainfall as the soil can use for its own improvement according to its particularstate of development. If all the rain that falls is needed, then all is conserved,and techniques are provided to this end for the economical storage and profitableuse of this water. All surplus run-off is conserved in farm dams of various kindsand for particular usages.

   When water flows beyond the conservation needs of the soil andthe additional capacity of farm dams, it is allowed to follow natural flow lines.Waterflow which formed the valleys will not damage those valleys in a Keyline programme.

   When water is the limiting factor, storages are designed againstmaximum run-offs, and not the minimum annual run-off of orthodox recommendation.

   The Keyline plan, in common with many others, advocates treeplanting, but provides a planned pattern for all plantings.

   Again, the plan makes soil deepen. It has been said that itmay have taken centuries to develop an inch of natural soil. But man can so controlthe factors involved that he can develop many inches of good soil from decomposedrock and subsoil in about three years, while in many instances he can produce grasson such earths in one year.

   The Keyline plan stems primarily from an overall planning techniquebased on a new conception of land shape as a powerful aid to agricultural land development,and its planning background is the pattern taken by naturally flowing water. Thiscan best be illustrated as follows: The farm headwater valleys of smooth, roundedshape, whether they are small, of a few acres, or large, of a few hundred acres,generally have two distinct slopes along the centre line of the valley; one, thefirst and steeper slope falling from the hill or ridge, and, second, a flatter slopebelow, which generally is constant to its junction with the watercourse below. Thepoint of change between these two slopes--the point where the first steeper higherslope meets the flatter lower slope I named the keypoint of the valley in my earlier,book, "The Keyline Plan".

   A line through this point, extending to left and right, whichmay be either a true contour line or a line with a slight grade, according to thecircumstances of climate and land shape which will affect the planning of each property,is the keyline of the valley. Now, these two slopes of the valley are a constantfeature of land shape, and the valley with its immediate environment is the firstor primary water catchment to be considered.

   The next and larger catchment area is that which includes two,three or many of these primary catchment areas. Within this second catchment area,in a region of uniform geological character, the keypoints of each primary valleyhave a relationship with each other; they have a rising relationship into the risingcountry. Therefore the general planning of Keyline is based, firstly, on these generallyconstant features of land shape, and, secondly, on the general subdivision of landthat can be made according to these natural shapes and as disclosed by the variouspatterns of water flow.

   This general planning takes further pattern according to thewater relationship of the farming enterprise. If water is scarce and the limitingfactor, the plan provides the ultimate in efficiency in the conservation of water.If water in abundance is the general problem, then it provides the most efficientgeneral pattern for drainage.

   From the background of a full appreciation of land shape andwater movement, with other climatic features which include the effects of floods,droughts and bushfires, Keyline provides an orderly and symmetrical plan coveringevery item of land development.

   The Keyline plan is designed to be economical. The result ofthe full Keyline development of a farming and grazing property is to increase thefertility of all the land, bring useless land together with all other land into highproductiveness, improve every aspect of the environment and hold it permanently andsafely as an improving landscape.

   Planning not only protects land from floods, but turns floodwater to advantage. Planning beats drought very easily. Planning protects land fromfire. I have not seen any good property that Keyline would not improve threefold,with the exception of the smaller properties which sometimes reach close to the maximumof production by means other than the best or most economical. The general orderof potential improvement on most grazing properties in Australia would be from threeto ten fold and more.

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   All agricultural land is contained in watersheds of varyingsizes. These start with the smallest or primary valleys which flow into other largervalleys. Several primary valleys may flow to one larger or secondary valley; severalof 'the secondary valleys--each with its several primary valleys--then flow intoa small creek valley. Several small creek valleys, each with its several secondaryvalleys and each of these in turn with its series of primary valleys, may flow intoa larger creek valley, and so on until the final valley, and its watershed includesall the land that flows water to the mouth of the river at the sea coast.

   The primary and secondary valleys are those of the farms andgrazing properties. Of these two, the primary valley is of the greatest significance.If every problem of the primary valley can be solved, so too can every problem ofthe secondary valley. These two valleys make or solve all the problems of land; therefore,every major land problem can be approached and solved as a series of small agriculturalproblems.

   If a full Keyline development and management plan were appliedon all the farm and grazing lands within a catchment area where the climatic conditionsare of the general Australian pattern, then any former drought or flood problem ofthat area would disappear. It would also wipe out the danger of a major fire hazard.

   Any major flood danger is capable of being solved if there issufficient will to do the job, coupled with the necessary finance, labour and materials;but no solution, based on flood damage as the problem, will pay. The cost will generallybe greater than the accumulated flood damages of a century and more. The real problemin our Australian conditions is not flood damage, but the sheer waste of valuablewater.

   When this factor is accepted as the problem, we immediatelymove the location of our work to the primary and secondary valleys of our farms,grazing properties and forest areas. Here, water storage structures can generallyprovide low-cost storage. Here, only, can the greatest profit and land advantagebe secured from the stored water. Here, too, is the land below the highwater levelof the storage, not waste land. But as well as the vast surface water storage potentialof these dams there is the great potential of extra capacity of the soil and landitself. If farming techniques are followed which enable all the land to absorb sufficientextra water from each rainfall only for the development of the soil itself, the increasedcapacity would be more than all the huge storages of the big projects. It would,furthermore, be the cheapest and the most profitable storage.

   So the soil treatment techniques of the Keyline plan, includingmethods of cultivation, have just this effect on soil, namely, of storing and holdingin the soil increased water for when and where it is needed.

   Again, if Keyline was instituted as a National development programmefor all agriculture and applied as it fits the land shape and climate of each farm,it would have a profound effect on our major disadvantage--the lack of water.

   The flood waters from prolonged heavy rains, which now go tosea within a few days, would still be in the soil and in the farm dams months later.Some of the water would remain there for a year and more. During this time the increasedsoil moisture would be feeding ground water supplies which flow as springs to feedthe creeks and rivers. Therefore, river flow would be more constant. Then the continuousbut slow seepages from farm dams would be adding to these underground supplies. Thiswater would be clean and clear, as well as constant. The present accelerated siltingup of rivers would first cease and the constant flow of silt-free water would speedilyregenerate them.

   There are wonderful things happening in agricultural scienceand research, but there is as yet no Government plan of overall development, norindeed is there in private enterprise. There is too big a gap between the resultsof research and the practice on the farm.

   If six farmers or six agricultural scientists were to plan theagricultural development for the same enterprise of 1,000 acres of undeveloped land,it is certain that six different plans would emerge. They all would have differing.ideas on subdivision, house sites, trees, water conservation, soil treatment andpasture management. Again, if the same six men, with the experience of having developedsuch a property once, could be given the same job again, no doubt there would bea further six plans. But if such an area was handed over to six competent Keylinefarmers they would independently look at the land in the same manner, have the sameappreciation of land shape and climate, the same knowledge of the value of treesin relation to land shape, and the same ideas on water. The separate plan that eachwould produce would be identical. Further, if they were to do the job again afterthe experience of having done it once, the pattern and the development would be constant.

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   What has struck me over the last few years is the deep-rootedpessimism of most people regarding soil. Even when they examine our deep fertilesoil on a hillside which they had seen previously as subsoil or even yellow shale,they. are still apt to discuss agriculture shortly afterwards in such a way as toindicate that they have not really accepted the fact that such poor material canbe changed quickly into rich soil. They have seen it, they have dug their hands intoit, they have accepted it on an intellectual level, but they are still bound by thedogma of orthodox agriculture.

   As Keyline is based on climate, on land shape and on this particulartheory of soil development, the details of the planning and the development techniquesof Keyline will be preceded by a discussion on soil.