Conventional and organic semidwarf Granny Smith apple production systems were compared during three years of conversion to certified organic management. Because of differences in fruit load with hand thinning compared with chemical thinning, apple tonnage was higher in the organic production system (OPS) in 1989 and 1991. The organic system was higher than the conventional system in number and weight of fruit per tree, but smaller in average fruit size. Using grower-receivedfarmgate premiums of 38% (1990) and 33% (1991) for unsorted, certified organic apples, comparative cost accounting showed greater net return per hectare for the OPS. The OPS required higher material and labor inputs in all years.
Greater terminal growth in the conventional production system (CPS) in 1991 was the only significant difference in growth indicators between systems. N was generally higher in leaf and new wood bark tissues in the CPS. P was generally higher in the leaf and new wood bark tissues in the OPS. No decline in yield was associated with increased weed biomass in the OPS. There was no difference in fruit damage caused by codling moth between production system treatments (codling moth granulosis virus and pheromone-based mating disruption vs. synthetic insecticide). In 1991, secondary lepidopterous pests (apple leafroller and orange tortrix) caused greater fruit scarring in the CPS. In all years, tentiform leafminers caused greater leaf damage in the CPS. Apple leafhopper density and leaf damage were greater in the OPS in 1990 and 1991.
Soil nutrient levels showed few significant changes during conversion to organic management. Soil bulk density and water holding capacity were useful indicators of changes in soil physical characteristics. Potentially mineralizable nitrogen andmicrobial biomass-C were more sensitive indicators of system change than total N or organic C. Two soil biological ratios, the respiratory ratio and biomass-C/total organic-C, were similar in the two production systems. Earthworm biomass and abundance increased in the OPS in the third year. The introduction of Lumbricus terrestris into the OPS greatly increased litter incorporation rates.