The possible benefits outlined here are unusually large and affect many different issues. In the case of Woody Agriculture, however, the benefits really could be this extensive.
The increasing fragility of the world's ecosystems and agricultural production systems is widely acknowledged. Unacceptably high soil erosion and accompanying degradation of aquifers and aquatic ecosystems, agricultural fertilizer and chemical runoff, and excessive energy (fossil fuel) requirements for crop production are all critical global problems that are in part the direct result of the universal reliance upon annual plants for the world's food supply.
Because traditional crops need to be planted every year, the soil must be tilled several times annually.
Soil is thus bare and exposed to wind and water erosion throughout the time of the early growth of these crops. Even when mature, fields are susceptible to erosion because of the naked soil between plants. After harvest and through the dormant season the soil is again exposed and vulnerable. The need for tillage, cultivation, fertilizer, and pesticides means many passes through a field with heavy, energy-intensive equipment.
In Woody Agriculture, crops would be planted only once in a lifetime.
The use of woody perennials for agricultural staple commodities production would result in little or no use of tillage, as well as the presence of a permanent cover during both the growing and the dormant seasons. Not only would this lead to a vastly lower rate of soil loss and less runoff into water supplies and aquatic environments, but there would be a reduced need for the fossil fuels consumed in plowing and tilling. In addition, use of pesticides needed for the establishment of annual plants could be sharply reduced. A further important benefit would be the reduction of soil compaction, since far fewer trips through the fields with heavy equipment would be required.