The Keyline Scale of Permanence


   IN order to plan the development and management of land, the many factors that are involved should be related in some logical order. The planning of one aspect cuts across others, so some must have preference. Decisions have to be made on all sorts of apparently conflicting items of land planning. We need , also, to have an aim or an object, a basic plan.

   If something is to be planned and built it needs a basis or a foundation. If it has a foundation, then it should be permanent, more permanent than the 'thing', whatever it is, that goes on the foundation.

   Decisions on any aspect of planning have a relative importance which relates to the permanence of the effect of that decision. A man decides to buy a tie; this decision is not as important as the decision to buy a suit of clothes. It is unlikely that he buys the suit of clothes to match the tie, but logical to buy the tie to match the suit. The permanence of the effects of each decision indicates the relative importance of the decision in planning.

   Every decision made on any aspect of land planning must be based on or fit in with all others that are more permanent, or more permanent in their effect than it is. Every decision should be based on adequate consideration of the whole plan of development.

   If permanence and relative permanence are the guides on decisions which have to be made, then we need to determine these agriculturally in relation to all the factors involved.

   For instance, farmers and graziers are advised to plant trees, but where should they be planted? What are the factors involved in this decision? They should not be planted along an old fence that will need to be replaced in ten years, particularly if the farmer can now see that the fence was erected originally in the wrong place. Many recommendations suggest the planting of trees to protect valleys. It would be surely a shame, when a few years later it became necessary to remove them to make way for a dam. Farm roads are sometimes an endless source of trouble. How can their most suitable positions be decided?

   If a farm road clashes with a water conservation drain, and this will happen more frequently in the future, how is the issue decided? Is the water conservation drain made to suit the road or vice versa?

   A subdivision fence is required to divide arable land from a grazing area. How is its best location determined? Certain gateways wash badly. Why were they put there in the first place? Is there a more suitable place for the fence or a better position for the gateways?

   It is planned to have some irrigation; what factors determine the exact position of the dam, the size and shape of the irrigation paddock? When it is finished could it then be obvious that another site for the dam, another site or shape for the irrigation paddock would have been much better? A new building is to replace an old one. Will it be built in the same place? What are the main factors that affect the decision?

   These are only a few of the questions that arise. Decisions are being made all the time, every day, and some of the most casual, thoughtlessly-made decisions, apparently of little importance at the time, may have bad permanent effects.

   Then we have all had the experience of saying "That's good enough" about a job we are doing. We probably knew it was not quite good enough; it did not last long enough and had to be done all over again. More time, much more time, had to be spent later redoing the whole work. It may be much worse than just redoing the work. The original work may have affected something else, perhaps something quite important and permanent.

   Errors of this type are constantly happening, but on farms their effects are magnified. It may be that a farmer without planning has decided quickly to clear a piece of land. He wanted to work an idle machine. Inadequate instructions were given to the operator about some trees that were to be left standing and the farmer hurries off to repair a gate a mile away. It may be that he did not fix the gate properly, but it will do, and he goes back to the clearing to find the trees he wanted have been removed. He can replace them, in fifteen or fifty years, but while he is adjusting himself to his loss a mob of cattle break through the "good enough" gate and ruin a crop he grew for winter feed. Six months later the effect is shortage of feed. Ten years later he is still without his trees.

   The dam built without a plan is usually the one that washes out if there is heavy rain, and the dam constructed to plan as a thing of usefulness and considerable beauty will not wash out and will last indefinitely.

   Every item of work a farmer does has its own life of usefulness or effectiveness--its degree of permanence. If he is planning for the stability and permanence of his farm he should be ever conscious of the relationship of these factors to what he is doing or planning. What effect will his plans have on other things that are more permanent? Still more questions.

   Will something cause a water concentration that can cut an erosion gutter in his land? Soil erosion is an opposing force working against the permanence of his land which should be his most permanent possession. Is the general development of his property planned for permanence? I know a man who bought a dairy farm which he cursed every day. The house was at the top of a steep hill, the dairy buildings at the bottom. Maybe it is much worse to climb a steep hill after working all day than climbing a hill to work in the morning. To that man that hill got worse and worse until he sold the farm. It has probably changed hands a few times since. In this case, there was no planning for permanence in the locations of those buildings. No one wanted to make of it a permanent home. This type of farm is not handed down from generation to generation; it has no permanence.

   Natural land or undeveloped land owes its permanence to its association with environment and time. It has reached a degree of balance and is stable. Agricultural land is, however, in a different category. Its degree of stability and permanence is a direct reflection of the people who control and occupy it.

   Man makes his moves and Nature sooner or later signifies approval or disapproval. If it is approval, man can hold it permanently, but if it's disapproval, Nature reshapes the land again in a fashion that does not suit man.

   Farmers of the stable agriculture of the old world are not so much affected by these problems of individual decision. They know the solutions very often, and act on them without even being aware of the problems which were ironed out for them centuries before. No doubt there were periods of trial and error, periods when changes were violent and often disastrous, but as farming lore and tribal laws were handed down from father to son for generations than ran into centuries, traditions hardened and origins became blurred. No doubt there were many failures worse in their effect than the droughts, flood and fires we know, and famine wiped out whole communities before agricultural man in Europe mastered his environment. And, looking back beyond the documented period of agricultural change, there must have been times when a farmer by his primative experiments produced results as momentous to his community as the invention of the wheel; and the glittering cavalcade of history as we know it (the warriors, princes and prelates of medieval times; the monarchs, explorers and traders of later times; the technocrat, bureaucrat and capitalist of today), travelled down the road prepared by such geniuses.

   We of the new world have had little time. We have had no such tradition of agricultural wisdom to guide us and there has been as yet no union of the techniques of the old world with the new conditions and horizons of the new world.

   For all that, the impact of the industrial revolution on the traditional agriculture of Europe caused grave ills; in the new countries the effect was swifter, deeper, and in places disastrous. For better or for worse modern technology speeds things along enormously. It is, however, just this powerful tool of modern technology, a lever, as it were, on the fulcrum of all traditional agricultural knowledge, that can reverse the process of deterioration with equal speed.

   The partnership of technology and tradition, with the exact sciences replacing much that was superstition, and almost infinite power replacing bullocking labour, these properly co-related, form a basis for a new type of permanent agriculture. With all due respect to the many who have made magnificent contributions to the sum of our knowledge, I submit that there has been as yet no clearly formulated pattern for permanence in modern agriculture!

   Seven years ago, after eight years of trial and error experiments on my own properties, I felt I had stumbled on to something of real agricultural importance in my land experiments. Three years later it seemed appropriate to set my ideas down in print, and "The Keyline Plan", 1954, was the result.

   There has been since a further four years of experiment and proving over a much wider range of conditions, plus the great benefit of innumerable discussions with some of the best agricultural brains in Australia. Looking back to my first inquisitive interest in the affairs of farmers and graziers from meeting them as a mining man, I realise now that I have had opportunities that few men have ever had for just the type of work and investigations that have absorbed me for so many years. When I first purchased land I bought also all the problems of poor climate, eroded, abandoned land and dead soil. Fire took the life of my brother-in-law manager the first year, a year of withering drought. Soon, freak rains were to test and destroy some of my first work. I had few problems of money that beset the first years of many of our best farmers, and no problems of equipment, since there were always plenty of bulldozers and giant scoops on my nearby jobs or mines. Then I had a fund of knowledge from my own work which I soon found was of greater value to me than any available help or advice. I knew water, earth and rocks, and enough of many branches of engineering. The rest I learned by doing it. Over and beyond all this I could do what I liked, there was no one to dictate. I had the supreme advantage and the great privilege of making my own mistakes in my own way. For fifteen years my experiments, mistakes and failures have pointed the way to the solution of each approach of the work and to the completion of a workable and successful plan. While aware still that there is much to be learned, I feel that my experience and conclusions are of definite value.

   For these reasons then I offer the idea of the Keyline scale as a contribution to the development of a modem planned agriculture that will be stable and permanent.

   The Keyline scale of permanence, or to give it a full explanatory title, "The Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural", is a further development of the Keyline Plan. It was developed for the purposes of providing a yard stick or guide to every type and kind of decision that has to be made in any aspect of overall planning in the development and management of agricultural land.

   The Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural, for the planning, development and management of agricultural lands is set out in this way:

  1. Climate
  2. Land shape
  3. Water supply
  4. Farm roads
  5. Trees
  6. Permanent buildings
  7. Subdivision fences
  8. Soil

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   The most permanent agricultural factor is climate. The general overall climate which has produced the natural vegetation and has given the final smoothing and shaping to the land is first on the Keyline scale.

   Land shape is intimately associated with the particular climate and is second in the Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural.

   These first two factors of the scale form the environment into which we must first fit our agriculture.

   Land shape under the Keyline plan is to be preserved. Fertility erosion, the forerunner of soil erosion which causes the reshaping of land, is completely prevented.

   Climate and land shape head the Keyline scale of permanence and are very closely related in the time or age of their permanence.

   Item number three on the Keyline scale must unquestionably be water supply. There can be no satisfactory or permanent agriculture without permanent water supply. Even dry agriculture must at least have permanent water for household and for stock. If water can be conserved in farm dams, then the structures themselves are planned as permanent structures. Such water may be used for irrigation, and some of the irrigation dams may be depleted but the structures themselves remain.

   Under the general Australian conditions it is always desirable to conserve all the water that falls on the land. This desirable objective has not been attained in the past because of lack of study and of experiment that would make this approach profitable and practical. Whatever the source of water supply, be it creek, river, bores, farm storage in tanks and dams or even pumped or carted to the property, it forms an important background to all other planning and development. It may influence the pattern of clearing, the planting of trees, the selection of home and other building sites, the location of roads and subdivisions and cropping and grazing areas.

   The water supply should be decided and planned first so that it will fit the two other more permanent factors, namely, climate and land shape.

   The fourth factor on the Keyline scale is main farm roads.

   On the gentler, easier country, the sites of permanent farm roads may offer alternatives, some of which may be suitable in general planning, but as the country becomes steeper and more difficult the siting of permanent farm roads depends more and more on climate and land shape.

   Fifth on the scale are trees, the trees that are to be left in clearing of the land, or the trees that are to be planted. They are more permanent generally than homes but much less permanent than climate and land shape.

   It may be thought that trees are more permanent than water supply when the supply depends on dams that may silt up, but dams are located according to the climate and land shape and are designed and built for permanence. Silting can be prevented. If trees can live in drought conditions on natural ground water, then, surely, water supply can be made to last, provided dams are deep enough.

   The sixth item on the Keyline scale of permanence is homes and major farm buildings. Their sites should be selected having regard to all other more permanent features. Trees and buildings are closely related as to their age of usefulness. Some trees for beautification will be planted near the homestead.

   The seventh factor is subdivision. The location of the subdivision fences is influenced by farm roads, which in turn are located in respect to climate, land shape and water supply.

   As well as the main farm roads, reasonable access has to be provided all over the property. The most suitable sites for subsidiary roads influence the general subdivision fencing pattern.

   Soil is eighth on the Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural.

   With the dominating place that soil fertility occupies in our planning aims it may be thought that soil would rate higher, but the scale is in order of the relative permanence of things agricultural. If the soil is poor at the commencement of planning it would not do to class it as third or fourth on the scale of permanence. Soil is eighth or last, because the fertility of the soil can be lost in less time than a line of fence posts will rot. A poor soil may be converted into rich fertile soil in a tenth of this time.

   There is, however, the other aspect of soil that is related to number two of the scale, i.e., land shape. Land shape is really the shape of the soil covering on the subsoil and rock form below. According to plan, land shape must remain stable and permanent.

   In repeating then, the Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural, for the planning, development and management of agricultural lands is:

  1. Climate
  2. Land shape
  3. Water supply
  4. Farm roads
  5. Trees
  6. Permanent buildings
  7. Subdivision fences
  8. Soil

   But let it not be thought that these "eight" are the sole factors on the broad agricultural scale. Without, at least one other, the will, energy and ingenuity of our landmen, land improvement will not prosper.

   Each factor on the Keyline scale of the relative permanence of things agricultural will be discussed individually as far as any one factor can be separated from the others.

   Climate and land shape are intimately associated and are related in age.

   In any discussion on water supply we must consider it in relation to climate and land shape. The storage of water in farm structures cannot be separated from either of these two factors.

   Like climate and land shape, water supply and farm roads are associated in age, whereas the degree of permanence of the former relates to periods of time ranging from tens of thousands of years, the time association of water supply and farm roads, which are provided on the farm by man, is in the order of mere hundreds of years.

   Trees, next on the scale, also relate to water supply and main farm roads. In most farming conditions, where trees are still a factor, they may now have a greater degree of permanence than farm roads and water supply.

   Permanent buildings are sited in relation to, or with consideration of, all the more permanent features. Their degree of permanence is generally greater than but relates to the next item, i.e., subdivision and fencing.

   Soil is life and life may die. So this last factor on the Keyline scale of permanence is to be developed to a much higher state of life and fertility than it attained naturally. The farmer and grazier may then be justified in considering it as his permanent possession.

   When soil is held permanently in an improved condition we will have attained the objective, a stable and permanent agriculture. The full duration of permanence will always depend on the farmer who is not only manager but custodian of his re-created agricultural land.