Struggling English apple growers are likely to resist the temptation to quit - for now at least, according to sector bosses.

Adrian Barlow, chief executive of trade body English Apples and Pears, said that in spite of a tough 2005/06 season, expectations for 2006/07 were already more optimistic.

A combination of factors would make life easier for English growers next season, he said. Southern hemisphere growers stung by rock-bottom EU prices this season were likely to think twice about exporting so much to Europe.

There was also likely to be less disruption caused by difficulties between Poland and Russia. This season Polish growers could not export fruit to Russia because of alleged phytosanitary issues and had to sell it elsewhere.

The situation was exacerbated by an unusually large German garden crop, which meant large volumes of German apples on the market, further depressing prices. Barlow said: "We will see a much more realistic relationship between demand and supply. That's going to give us a stronger start to the season."

However, he warned that growers were still concerned about low prices and that long-term investment was likely to suffer as a result.

"I've heard all sorts of stories about grubbing up, but when it comes to hard evidence of this, I can't find it. But people are going to be cautious about making major investments. And that's a disaster, because it will ultimately effect quality."

But Barlow said retailers couldn't be blamed if prices on the open market crashed.

"They have to square a circle by remaining competitive and at the same time pay a reasonable price for fruit.

"There have been occasions when they have compressed their own returns to ensure they didn't do any damage to their supply base."