CHICAGO —U.S. apple shippers expressed optimism that prices would remain higher than normal as they heard about one of the smallest crops in recent years at the U.S. Apple Association’s 2003 Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference Aug. 21-22 in Chicago.

“There are a lot of positives about this crop,” said Jeff Crist, owner of Crist Bros. Orchards Inc., Walden, N.Y., who moderated the conference that 300 growers, packers, shippers and merchandisers attended.

“The crop will have higher quality, good sizing and very manageable volumes.”

Though volumes from the East and Midwest are up considerably, by a quarter and two-thirds, respectively, an expected 6.5% drop in volume from the Northwest prompted the U.S. Apple Association to release its estimate of 216.2 million 42-pound boxes, up 5.8% from last season’s crop.

The 2002 crop, at 203.7 million boxes, was the shortest crop since 1988.

The association’s estimate is 2% lower than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Aug. 12 220.6 million boxes forecast. Both estimates significantly trail the 242.1 million boxes five-year production average.