December 5, 1998 | By: Haven Miller

Farmers be advised: If you use a computer, an electronically-controlled feeding, ventilation, or milking system, or get goods or services delivered to your farm, the "year 2000" computer problem could affect your operation.

"Software packages that use just two digits for the date are a red flag for farm producers," said Steve Isaacs, Extension farm management specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "It's not a guarantee that something bad will happen on January 1 of 2000, but farmers need to be aware of a potential problem and check it out now."

The "year 2000" problem, commonly called Y2K, refers to what may happen on January 1 of the new century. Many of the world's computers use two digits to indicate the year. The year 1998, for example, is simply "98" to a computer. That means when the clock strikes 2000, many computers will register a double-zero, which could be interpreted as 1900 - not 2000. Everything from banking, to transportation, to utilities services could be affected.

"Having a stand-by generator is highly recommended for farmers," said Larry Turner, Extension agricultural engineer at UK. "If power is lost and fans don't run for a few hours, animals can suffocate in a mechanically-ventilated building." He said producers also may want to investigate installation of a battery-powered alarm for ventilation systems to alert them of a power outage. Some alarms can automatically dial a phone to a prescribed number in case of fan shutdown.

Turner said most environmental controllers for livestock buildings don't have embedded computer chips. But those that do have chips, or electronic timers, could present a problem.

"Producers need to find out if their systems have embedded chips, then check with manufacturers to see if the equipment in question is Y2K compliant," Turner said. "Controllers particularly susceptible are those that include a date function." He said some vendors have Internet web sites that provide that information.

As for computers and software, there is no way to predict if an individual producer will have a problem.

"So many different systems are out there that we can't make generalizations," said Steve Isaacs. "Producers who check with manufacturers and find out their hardware or software is not Y2K compliant may be facing a replacement cost. They might then want to run both old and new systems for a while before phasing-out the old one."

Isaacs cautioned producers to be careful if they plan to test for the problem by advancing their computer's internal clock.

"If you plan a test I strongly urge checking with your manufacturer or software vendor first," Isaacs said. "The manufacturer or vendor can help you avoid problems you're not prepared to handle." He recommended that producers make disk and hard copy backups of critical data and records before tackling the problem.

Both Isaacs and Turner urged producers to check with equipment manufacturers before assuming they have a problem. Information on stand-by generators is available from local UK Cooperative Extension Service offices. Internet users can get more information on Y2K from the following web sites: 

http://www.usda.gov 

http://www.reeusda.gov/y2k

http://www.ocio.usda.gov/y2k/index.htm

http://www.aphis.usda.gov/oa/y2k

http://www.ocio.usda.gov/nitc/y2knews_index.html

http://www.itc.nrcs.usda.gov/y2k/y2k.htm.

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Contact: 

Writer: Haven Miller 
(606) 257-3784

Sources: Steve Isaacs
(606) 257-7255

Larry Turner
(606) 257-3000, ext. 109