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‘Soil, Water & Carbon for Every Farm’ – Building Soils, Harvesting Rainwater, Storing Carbon

by Abe Collins & Darren Doherty

Introduction

Keyline Design was first developed by the great Australian, P.A. Yeomans (1904-1984), in the late 1940s & 50s initially as a practical response to the unpredictable rainfall regime he found on his new property, ‘Nevallan’, to the west of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Soil Conservation, as developed by the US Army Corp of Engineers was the predominant practice of the time and for a time Yeomans was influenced by this, though soon found some deficiencies with the pattern of water flow its application expressed. Yeomans went on to devote the rest of his life to the promotion, research and development of Keyline Design and in doing so was labelled by Permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison as "…one of Australia’s greatest patriots… ".

Influenced by the likes of prominent organic agriculture figures in Andre Voison, Friend Sykes, Newman Turner & Louis Bromfield (among many others!) Yeomans has been attributed with being the 1st person to accelerate soil formation through the stacking of methods, overturning the myth that it took 1,000 years to create an inch of topsoil. Yeomans proclaimed that "…the landman’s job is not so much to conserve soil as it is to develop soil, to improve his soil and to make it more fertile than it ever was…".

The development of the Permaculture concept owes much to P.A. Yeomans, not only for its enduring and effective landscape patterning, but also for the integrated business framework that he developed over the 40 odd years that he worked in developing a myriad of enterprises around Keyline®. From the 1950 – 1970s there was a nationally (in Australia) published ‘Keyline’ magazine, authorship of articles & books, at least three operational broadacre R&D farms under his control, CSIRO support (up until 1958), a ‘Keyline Foundation’, an established international property design & development consultancy, Chisel Plow, ‘Delver’, ‘Tritter’, ‘Keyline Plow’, Lockpipe, ‘Bunyip Level’, and ‘Ag-Yo’ or ‘Yobanite’ manufacture & sales. How Yeomans managed such a diverse business model over many years is a tribute to the man’s capability and is unparalleled in the Permaculture (or Agriculture!) industry despite the devices of modern communications.

Stunned by the loss of his brother-in-law Jim Barnes, in a grass fire in 1944 on ‘Nevallan’, Yeomans brought to bear his vast experience as a mine overseer and earthmover to capture and store rainwater in large ponds (referred to in Australia as ‘farm dams’) across broadacre landscapes which "so lush and green all year round, they would be virtually fireproof" and droughtproof. Similar climate regions across the world suffer similarly and clearly the adoption of Keyline methods would be a primary form of solid-state risk management for both rural and urban landscapes alike. I commonly get requests from clients and correspondents to design both fireproof & droughtproof landscapes and fortunately Keyline provides the effective template.

According to Yeomans the "inseparable trinity of landscape design" were climate, land shape and water supply – with roads, trees, buildings, fencing & soils being the "more negotiable remainder of the hierarchy". Yeomans labeled this prioritization the ‘Keyline Scale of Permanence’ as a foundation to the process involved planning permanent landscapes. Interestingly, the loss of carbon in agricultural soils is now evident. I commonly say that Permaculture itself ‘lacks a clear decision making process’: the Keyline Scale of Permanence’ and latterly Allan Savory’s landmark ‘Holistic Management® Model’ ably provide the models for the Permaculture ‘toolkit’. These methodologies lack the integrated design principles such as those espoused and continually expanded by Permaculturalists, so combining these approaches makes obvious sense and follows the intellectual pathway led by Yeomans, Savory, David Holmgren, Bill Mollison along with Dr. John Todd , Dr. George Chan & Gunter Pauli among others.

The following article serves to outline many of these processes as part of the ongoing evolution of Keyline or Keyline Design Mark IV as I am calling it, and was developed by Abe Collins & myself for our various seminars.

Click here to download as a PDF (574kb).

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