keyline design mark IV by collins & doherty

On their blog,  HeenanDoherty has a posted a paper originally posted here in all its glory ie with pictures and format. I made an attempt to contact HeenanDoherty via a comment On their blog, to no avail – the page would not let me comment. 

I have republished AN EXTRACT below.  And have created a PDF document from the original source here

To download this worthy paper, go here.


KEYLINE DESIGN Mark IV   Soil, Water & Carbon for Every Farm’

Building Soils, Harvesting Rainwater, Storing Carbon

 by Abe Collins[1] & Darren J. Doherty [2]


Keyline Design was first developed by the great Australian, P.A. Yeomans (1904-1984), in the late 1940’s & 50’s 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 somewhat 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…[3]’.

Influenced[4] 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 1000 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 his soil and to make it more fertile than it ever was…’.[5]

The development of the Permaculture concept owes much to P.A. Yeomans[6], 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 – 1970’s 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’[7] and droughtproof. Similar climate regions across the world suffer similarly and the 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, landshape 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 with planning permanent landscapes. Interestingly it is now evident that the loss of carbon in agricultural soils. I commonly say that Permaculture itself ‘lacks a clear decision making process’[8]: 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[9], Dr. George Chan & Gunter Pauli[10]     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.

The Keyline Plan

”A comprehensive design strategy for agricultural and urban development based on fundamental, repeating land shapes that have been created by water” Abe Collins

Key components:

  • Rapid development of biologically active, fertile soil within a systematically designed landscape.  During an average three-year conversion phase, four to six inches of new topsoil are typically formed each year. This new topsoil stores large quantities of water in the landscape.
  • Design for the harvest, storage and distribution of water on the landscape forms the foundation of the Keyline Plan.
  • Run-off water is stored in dams.  This water is later released for rapid, gravity-powered flood-irrigation.
  • Roads, forests buildings and fencing follow primary water layout and fit together within the lay of the land.
  • The Keyline landscape is a permanent landscape in which every infrastructure component helps ensure the maintenance and renewal of the topsoil within it.

“The hallmarks on the properties of successful Keyline farmers are lakes with water birds, contour and ridge line roads and contoured strip forests, dark fertile soil, luxuriant healthy green crops and feed.” Ken Yeomans[11]    

New Topsoil Can Be Created Quickly

Factors that determine soil fertility:

  • The mineralogical and structural framework
  • The prevailing climate
  • The soil’s biotic associations

Soil has a life and environment of its own.  The biotic association can be modified through modification of the soil microclimate.

Soil life responds dramatically to ideal air, moisture, food and temperature conditions.  These conditions are simple to create with grazing, subsoiling and dependable rainfall or irrigation. Life begets Life.   Plants, their roots and attendant exudates are the solar harvesters and the raw food of soil life. Grazing animals are ‘biological accelerators’ they are the most effective tool we can use to speed mineral cycling, and graziers affect enough land to make a large impact.


Graziers can build topsoil more quickly than anyone else on earth

pasture cowThe work of the Yeomans Family, their forebears and contemporaries, Savory and more recently Collins, Dr. Llewellen Manske[12], & others have clearly demonstrated a variety of means available to increase air, water and organic materials: only the scientists who policy-makers choose to listen to need convincing.

[1]   Carbon Farmers of America co-founder,, Swanton, VT

[2]   Australia Felix Permaculture,, Bendigo, VIC

[3]   Mollison, B., Permaculture Design Certificate Course, Tyalgum, NSW, 1995

[4]   Yeomans, A.J., Homage to P.A. Yeomans, Gold Coast, QLD, 19

[5]   Yeomans, P.A., The Challenge of Landscape, Keyline Press, Sydney, NSW, 1958, pp 166.

[6]   Hill, S.B., Yeomans Keyline Design for Sustainable Soil, Water, Agroecosystem & Biodiversity Conservation: A Personal Social Ecology Analysis, University of Western Sydney, NSW, 2001

[7], Keyline & Fertile Futures, Sydney, NSW, 2007

[8], Keyline & Fertile Futures, Sydney, NSW, 2007

[9], Principles for Designing Eco-Machines, Burlington, VT, 2008

[10], About ZERI: The Science Behind It, 2008

[11], Yeomans, K.B., Keyline Designs, Gold Coast, QLD, 2005

[12], UND, 2008

My Hero PA Yeomans

Keyline Farming and Water for Every Farm were my first book on farming. My father bought them for me, when I first began to farm my family’s land. I was mad about Yeomans. He was my hero. I was 21 years of age and I had a whole 11 acres and a little ‘ol grey fergie tractor. I could play with contours and water, inspired by my hero Yeomans. Years later as a mature-age uni student, I had found a house in Townsville to rent, completely furnished and there on the bookshelf were 6 or 7 copies of “Water for Every Farm”. I was thrilled. I read my favourite book again from cover to cover. I asked the real estate agent and to my delight, they said that yes, I was living in my hero’s house.

Keyline Farming by Percival Alfred Yeomans (1904 – 1984) (Book: Water for Every Farm )

pa yeomans 2pa yeomans3   PA bought some land, and his brother in law managed it until a fire swept through the land and his brother in law died in the effort to control the fire. PA decided that he must fireproof his property and set about to do so.

PA decided on a few important things that others did not, for example, the first thing to do on a property is to decide where the water is  puddled, and where the water puddled, where it slows down and soak it – that is the KEYPOINT and created his keyline system on his observations.

In the process of waterproofing in time, he felt his job was not so much to produce crops, but rather to produce soil. And in the looking after the soil, all else would fall into place.

pa yeomans




Click to access pw-yeowmans-keyline-water-harvesting.pdf,_Neville_Thomas

Yeomans Project Art Gallery NSW by Artists Ian Milliss and Lucas Ihlein with special guests 4 & 11 December 2013, 15 & 22 January 2014

Click to access yeomans_project_digital_newspaper.pdf


“Yobarnie Map Wall” at the Yeomans Project exhibition at Art Gallery NSW  Jan 2014

Related Link One Hectacre

Archival Yeomans Films uploaded to YouTube