Keyline Design

Keyline Design is a permaculture practice where topographic features are linked to the flow of water over and through a landscape. The technique was developed by P.A. Yeomans and the practice requires the use of a Yeomans plow (also known as a Keyline plow). This practice allows water to more effectively infiltrate the landscape and to be channeled into keypoint ponds. 

Erik and Doniga Markegard of Markegard Family Grass-Fed have a 1,000 acre home ranch as well as six ranches leased for livestock. They produce grass-fed beef, grass-fed lamb, pastured pork, and pasture raised laying hens. They are excited to share how they came to promote Keyline Design strategies on their farm.

Markegard Family Grass-Fed serves as a great model for the  Keyline Design to increase the sustainability of a farm. Keyline Design is a permaculture practice which slows down the movement of water over and through the land to increase absorption and percolation into the soil and water table. Doniga explains that “Keyline Design is a whole systems approach to water and land management.”

The Markegards have chosen to use this system because when Erik first came to the property, he noticed there was “a lot of surface water” on the property and “thought it would make a lot of sense to use gravity to bring water” to a central collection point. This approach lent itself perfectly to Keyline Design, because in permaculture design terms, Erik had discovered a Keypoint: a low point where rainwater naturally collects.

The water travels from the Keypoint through a Keyline channel, which is a man-made line ripped into the land by a tractor with a special Keyline/Yoeman’s plow. The Keyline allows water to go deeper into the soil and move where it is directed. Doniga notes that the water “runs very slow” through the Keyline. They have used bulldozers, excavators, and “even a pick and a shovel” to implement this design technique.

Markegard Family Grass-Fed uses this passive irrigation technique because it builds soil, increases forage production, saves electricity, and reduces runoff. Erik notes that they “use the Keyline Design instead of irrigating.” This is just one way that they are closing the loop and increasing the ecological sustainability of their ranch.

Recommended Materials

2013 EcoFarm Conference Audio: Working Landscapes for Water Storage
CAWSI’s Agricultural Water Stewardship Center:
Markegard Family Grass-Fed:


This project is funded in part by a water stewardship grant from the California Department of Food & Agriculture


One response to “Keyline Design

  1. Great video! Beautiful photography and introduction to restorative agriculture methods.
    Check us out at for more info on keyline design and the methods of implementation.

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