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Planning for Permanence with Yeomans' Keyline Scale

Posted by Owen Hablutzel almost 12 years ago

Systems view on Yeoman's Keyline Scale of Permanence and its many contributions. A FREE GRAPHIC for quickly intuiting the Keyline Scale of Permanence. And a KEYLINE workshop Announcement!

Planning for Permanence:
with Yeomans’ Keyline Scale


The Keyline Contribution to Permaculture

Without Percival Alfred (P.A.) Yeomans and his Keyline concepts
Permaculture as we know it would not exist. Bill Mollison is quick to tip
his hat toward this debt in the very first paragraph of Permaculture Two:
Practical Design for Town and Country in Permanent Agriculture. Here,
after making the claim that Permaculture is different from ALL other
approaches to agriculture due to its use of “conscious design,” he
respectfully qualifies, “with the notable exception of Keyline concepts.”

In fact, most of the major themes that were developed into the
Permaculture approach were exploratory trails originally blazed by the
practical visionary, P.A. Yeomans.(1) His relentless experimentation,
fearless “trial-and-error” mistake-making, tireless reflection, ongoing
adjustment, and “learning by doing,” (as well as his unique set of skills
and knowledge in hydrology and engineering) made him one of the most
innovative ‘adaptive managers’ of agricultural history.

The Keyline process he developed was the first farm/ranch planning
approach to:

* Focus on the whole (holistic)

* Recognize the critical importance of goals, and especially
prioritized, holistically-considered decision-making for planning (2)

* Acknowledge the role of people as a crucial part of the system –
maintaining that land health was “a direct reflection of the people”

* Use conscious design sensitive to ‘place’ in farm landscapes

* Integrate the land improvement tool of livestock grazing with
technology (Yeomans Keyline Plow) to accelerate fertility

* Pay attention to the importance of scaled organization of agro-
ecosystems(recognition of nested hierarchies and the interplay
dynamics between levels) as an explicit dimension needed to
effectively plan for permanence

* Increase flexibility, adaptive capacity, and resilience of the whole-

* (3)

In short, Yeomans proclaimed and actually enacted a clear-eyed way
forward towards the very “permanent agriculture” (what today is called
‘sustainable’ or even ‘regenerative’ agriculture) that was his life’s
passion, purpose, and aim.


The Keyline Scale Of Permanence

The backbone, the veritable vertebrae, of Yeomans’ Keyline Design
system, and the outcome of fifteen years of adaptive experimentation in
a broad-acre environment characterized by dynamic uncertainty, (4) is
Yeomans’ Keyline Scale of Permanence (KSOP).

1. Climate
2. Landshape
3. Water Supply
4. Roads/Access
5. Trees
6. Structures
7. Subdivision Fences
8. Soil

So, what is the meaning of this 8-factor list, and what can you do with it?
Yeomans’ “full explanatory title” for this list gives a clue. He calls it
The Keyline scale of relative permanence of things agricultural, for
the planning, development, and management of agricultural lands.

Like many experienced and successful farmers, Yeomans was a natural
systems-thinker. As such he recognized that “the planning of one aspect
cuts across all others.” It is for this reason that he built his Scale as a
sensible ordering device for use in planning. In practice he used the KSOP
for prioritization and as a decision-making guide for planning fertile farm
landscapes robust to the fluctuations of time.

While all of the Scale’s Factors are understood to be inter-related parts
of a complex whole that will exhibit dynamic interplay between levels,
the specific order of his Scale is hierarchical (in both the nested and
ranked senses of the word), and based on scales of time as well as
energy. So how does that work?

The 8 Factors occur each in distinct levels ordered by amounts of time
and energy. Yeomans used “relative permanence” to discuss the time-
scale element for each Factor. The flip side of this is the relative
difficulty needed to change that Factor, which can be seen as an amount
of energy.

In order to facilitate faster grasp of the relationships between all
of the Factors, during my Keyline courses I’ve developed a simple graphic
learning-aid that presents the relationships visually to make the whole
Scale more intuitive ‘at-a-glance.’ (5)


Along the horizontal x-axis we see increasing units of time moving from
the left to the right hand side of the graph. This means the last, or 8th
factor on the KSOP (furthest to the left in the graph), soil, is potentially
the fastest changing/least permanent variable of the lot! (6) Of course,
the discovery and development of a process capable of building soil
fertility in a matter of a season to a few years was one of Yeomans’ most
revolutionary contributions to a permanent agriculture.

Next, along the vertical y-axis of the graph, the higher up the factor (also
higher in the hierarchy of the KSOP) the more energy it takes to make a
change, and the more difficult that will be. These are the slower
changing variables of any system, setting the context.

Use Of The Yeomans Scale

Using the KSOP in planning, development, and management decision-
making is, at the core, a matter of consciously designing the various
factors to “fit” into their given context. A matter of matching the horse-
power to the cart! Of fitting the house atop the foundation. Yeomans
gives the ‘everyman’ example that one will normally buy a tie to match
the suit and not vice versa! How much more important when dealing with
whole livelihoods and landscapes! This is why the order is important.

The first Factors of Climate and Landshape (and to a degree Water
supply) are more or less the fixed context within which any operation will
have to adapt itself. These are the design parameters, if you will. The
remaining factors have more flexibility and are a means to skillfully
accomplishing that adaptation and co-evolution with attention,
resourcefulness, intelligence, and hopefully some measure of elegance
and grace. (7) This is one area where Permaculture principles come into
play as very effective guidelines for further developing this part of
Yeomans’ order.

Once implemented, Yeomans observes, “nature sooner or later signifies
approval, or disapproval.” His Keyline Scale of Permanence is designed
to give your design, planning, and management the best chances for
garnering this “approval.”

This is why the various scaled Factors exhibit a nested, Russian-doll,
order (or “annidated,” to use Mollison’s term) in the KSOP. So lower
levels can be designed for the best “fit” with their context.

As higher levels are the ‘context’ for lower levels, they asymmetrically
constrain and exercise some controls on lower levels. The amount of
rainfall your land receives (KSOP Factor 1. Climate) will ‘control’ how
large a dam you might consider building.

At the same time, activity of lower levels can feed back into and
significantly affect the dynamics of higher levels. If you get your soil
fertility and soil water-holding capacity to high enough status (KSOP
Factor 8. Soil), you may be able to save the time, energy, and expense of
building any dam at all!

So, while all levels and their interactions must be heeded in good design,
the general KSOP pattern begins with the higher, larger context scales.(8)
The patterns established by these Factors then directly affect the
subsequent design and pattern for each following Factor in the order.
The spatial layout for water affects the pattern of access roads affects
where you might locate your tree shelterbelts, and on down the Scale.
Essentially, “designing from pattern to details,” as David Holmgren later
distilled it.

By creating such a simple but ordered design process that works directly
with the scaled and nested organization of nature itself, Yeomans
empowered farmers and land stewards everywhere to be able to more
simply work with, and adaptively fit their operations within, nature’s
complex dynamics.

The Keyline Scale of Permanence continues to be used and taught by an
increasing number of sustainably-minded consultants and educators. And
like many of Yeomans visionary ideas, this one continues to be better
understood by more practitioners with time. World-wide now, it is
growing in application and relevance, and continues to be developed
even further.

As Yeomans foresaw, the systemic crises of conventional treadmill
agriculture and its feedback effects to its own larger-scaled
environmental context continue to magnify at an increasingly rapid pace.
The systemic solutions he encouraged are more relevant than ever, and,
hold the possibility to do as he claimed and “reverse the process of
deterioration with equal speed.”

Yeomans' Keyline Scale of Permanence, a true-original "pattern for permanence," remains today as he always intended it to be, a gift of his hard-won experience, and “a contribution to the development of a modern planned agriculture that will be stable and permanent.”



Yeomans’ Keyline® Design Approach is being combined today
with Holistic Management® and Broad-acre Permaculture
processes for an ‘amplified’ version of this evolving
approach. Learn more near Portland, Oregon, at a 3-day
workshop that includes a hands-on Yeomans’ plow demo --
26, 2012.

INFO and Downloadable PDF, AT:




(1) In the chapter devoted to the Keyline Scale of Permanence we find
many if not most of the catalyzing themes that Mollison and Holmgren
developed very well, expanded-upon with their own genius, and
essentially re-formulated into “Permaculture.” These themes include:

* Reading the Landscape, ‘Landscape Literacy’ (Landshape)

* Micro-climates, Increased Edge, System Diversity(Trees,
shelterbelts, etc)

* Patterning and Zones of use (though often taught as being original
to Permaculture…) Yeomans references patterns and patterning
frequently, and tells a story about a dysfunctionally zoned dairy-
farm that brings out the importance of Zoning and relative position
(“sites selected having regard to all other more permanent
features”—a proto-‘Sector Analysis’), among other examples

* Acceleration of Succession (soils,etc) and Stacking Functions (the
many functions of trees he consciously planned and used)

* Animal integration (Yeomans’ was always a grazier-integrated

* A focus on creating a greater presence of Perrenials in the

* Emphasis on a conscious and logical Design approach

* Sought a “partnership of technology (particularly his knowledge of
earth moving, hydrology, and land engineering) and tradition.”
Such tradition as “agricultural lore and tribal law…handed down for
generations…” And envisioned them “properly co-related [to] form
the basis of a new permanent agriculture”

* Even a perspective of human responsibility for land stewarding,
essentially an ethic of ‘earth care,’ is announced by Yeomans at the
end of this important chapter

(2) Yeomans emphasized that, “every decision should be based on
adequate consideration of the whole plan of development.”

(3) All of these Yeomans’ themes have subsequently been taken up by
others and further developed through a variety of frameworks anticipated
by Yeomans, including: Permaculture, Holistic Management, Adaptive
Management, Agro-Ecology, Resilience and Sustainability Science… a
process that continues

(4) As Yeomans described the climate in which he worked:
…poor agricultural climate so typical of Australia's farm and
grazing lands of the mid-temperate zone… temperatures are often
high… rainfall is insufficient and unreliable and droughts of a few
months occur every year; flooding, destructive rains occur about as
often as the severe longer drought. The position of excessive run-
off followed by rain shortage for pasture and crops is a more or
less constant feature…
(from chapter V of The Challenge of Landscape)

(5) Please download this graph if you might find it of use, and use under
a Creative Commons Share-Alike license, 3.0

(6) Like many other relationships in natural and human systems (from
earthquakes and avalanches, to city size and traffic jams) the pattern of
relations between these time-scales roughly obeys a logarithmic power-
law distribution.

For example, the “relative permanence” of a climate-regime (Factor 1 on
the KSOP) may be on the order of tens of thousands of years (that our
present climate appears to be undergoing a radical and geologically rapid
shift towards a new Anthropocene regime does not nullify this… the
Holocene, which we are leaving behind, lasted 10,000 years). Changes in
Landshape (at landscape scales) will tend to occur in the several
thousands of years time-scale, whereas the supply and layout of water,
along with roads and their effects may last ‘mere’ hundreds of years.
Buildings and Fences, order of decades. And soils can change for the
better (or worse) quite quickly (order of years).

The same rough power-law relation would apply to the y-axis, but using
joules and mega-joules, or other units of energy, rather than units of

(7) ‘Elegance and grace’ include attention to aesthetics, which were
certainly part of Yeomans conscious awareness in farm design. This is but
one of the many functions he specifically calls out for trees in farm
landscapes. It is a matter of no great controversy that his properties held
highly-pleasing aesthetic values, with their placid bodies of water, wide
pastures, large grazing herbivores, and interspersed tree-belts.

In fact, in this aspect Yeomans had hit upon the deep savannah
‘nostalgia’ of our Pliestocene-shaped human genome, which has been
shown to be a universal human ideal landscape preference (witness your
nearest public park, and suburban ‘lawn-scapes’—ok folks, possible
Mollison had it wrong in his analysis of class-privilege and Veblen-style
‘conspicuous consumption’ as the source of human ‘lawn-longing’).

(8) Might argue here that with the implicit understanding of social and
ecological organization rendered through his Keyline Scale of
Permanence, Yeomans has anticipated Hierarchy Theory (a dialect of
General Systems Theory, and Complexity Theory).

This would add to a long-list of frameworks Yeomans anticipated, such as
in endnote (3).


* Except where otherwise noted, all quotations of P.A. Yeomans cited in
this article are from chapter IV in The Challenge of Landscape (1958)


Scale%20of%20permanence.oh Yeomansportrait Kypt7

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Owen Hablutzel
Owen Hablutzel : Thanks for the support, Jason... as you know well, it is fun work to be doing! And if not, we've got the design wrong!
Posted almost 12 years ago

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Kirk Gadzia
Kirk Gadzia : Hi Owen, I enjoyed the article very much. Well done. I can't seem to find the link to the graphic? Perhaps when you have time you could direct me. Thanks, Kirk
Posted almost 12 years ago

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Owen Hablutzel
Owen Hablutzel : Hi Kirk! Pleased that you enjoyed the article, and appreciate your note! You should be able to click on the graphic at the very base of this 'update,' next to the 2 photos. This should open as the full size graphic and you can 'save as.'

Also, could try accessing at: http://permaculture.org.au/2012/06/30/planning-for-permanence-with-yeomans-keyline-scale/

same article, but with included embedded links that am unable to do here...
Posted almost 12 years ago

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