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When Congress last year passed a market-oriented farm bill, one federal Conservation Reserve Program, the effort to save easily erodible farm topsoil, survived. A sister program called the Wetlands Reserve Program allows for landowners to be paid for granting short- or long-term easements to land conservancy organizations.

Interested landowners will be able to offer their lands for the programs via 10- or 15-year contracts during a monthlong sign-up period that begins Oct. 14. County Farm Service Agency offices are the sign-up locations. Added this year are croplands next to creeks.

The lands selected for the program will be judged on the basis of their environmental benefits. Owners of selected lands may expect annual federal rentals of from $30 to $40 per acre, down somewhat from prior land rentals.

To educate Erie County farmers and landowners with a farm production history, District Conservationist John R. Whitney of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has scheduled information meetings on Oct. 14 from 3 to 4:30 p.m., and again from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the USDA Agricultural Service Center, 50 Commerce Way, off Route 20-A just outside of East Aurora.

The New York State Food Venture Center at Geneva helps new and established entrepreneurs to perfect their food manufacturing processes and marketing means. Olga Padilla-Zakour, a Costa Rica native with wide academic and industrial experience, has just been appointed to lead the center. She succeeds the retired Donald Dowling. Part of the Venture Center is a 10,000-square-foot vegetable research pilot plant. Among Padilla-Zakour's recent commercial efforts was a Concord grape juice project for the Canandaigua Wine Co.

Apple pie may be the American standard, but visitors to this year's Niagara Apple Country Festival next Saturday and Sunday will be able to sample apple pizza, apple sausage, apple dumplings, fried dough with apples, fudge and caramel-dipped apples -- to say nothing of plain old cider.

A Festival Committee member said Brendan Smith of Pendleton was excluded from this year's event for his aggressive selling tactics in this low-key apple showcase -- and also his habit of underselling other vendors.

This fifth annual festival will go from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days at the Niagara County Fairgrounds, Route 78, north of Lockport. An arts and crafts show, an apple market, chicken barbecues, children's games and music both days will fill out the apple sell-a-bration.

The large Jacob Lapp family of Cassadaga is often the leading milk producer in Chautauqua County, and its fruit and vegetable stand is well-patronized. Careful handling of both enterprises is responsible.

The family's rigid beliefs on the rights and wrongs of government all too often make news. Its latest run-in with the Internal Revenue Service is an example. In a time when it's more convenient to bend, the Lapp family must be commended for standing firm on its beliefs, off the mainstream though they may be.

Barnyard gossip -- In his September visit to the Geneva Ag Experiment Station, Gov. Pataki said that the $600,000 appropriated in the 1997 budget is a first step in carrying out the Geneva Plan, the vision to upgrade technology and the research buildings at the state's largest farm, plant breeding and food production research center. . . . Erie County pond owners who desire fish restocking can obtain order blanks from the Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District, 50 Commerce Way, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052, or by phone. Order forms also are available from other county Soil & Water Conservation offices. . . . Even though rain reduced attendance, last week's Erie County Family Farm tour drew more than 350 people to four southern Erie County farms. . . . In his first State Fair entry, Lance Nagel, 12, of Edie Road, Town of Ashford, showed a 1,030-pound Angus steer that was declared the show's reserve champion. The Erie-Niagara Insurance Co. paid Lance 97 cents a pound for his steer. . . . Corn growers are pleased that the Senate Finance Committee has voted to extend the ethanol program to 2007, but conference with the House is needed before the victory is complete.

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