Why You Should Give a Second Thought to the Y2K Problem
Dr. Allen Young
USU Dairy Extension Specialist

    Until two months ago, I was only slightly concerned about the effect Y2K would have on the dairy industry. After attending a training workshop sponsored by USDA, U.S. Dept. of Commerce, and U.S. Small Business Administration I believe that prudent dairy producers should assess their preparedness to handle this problem and treat it similar to planning for a natural disaster, such as a major snow storm. I don�t believe that the �sky is falling,� but neither do I think you should �stick your head in the sand.� I will try to summarize some of the key points you should be aware of, and also give you places where you can go for more information.

    The Y2K problem originated because computer programmers needed to decrease the amount of space required by a program. Memory was very expensive, so they chose to save space by shortening dates to only the last two digits to represent the year. We have now reached the point where the date will go from �99 to �00. The problem is that once the date turns over to �00, the computer may interpret that as being 1900 or 1980, rather than 2000. In addition, the year 2000 is a leap year. There are 20 - 30 additional dates which are of concern. Problems with handling Y2K dates have already started. For example, the first problem, and lawsuit, started last year and involved machines that could not handle credit cards with expiration dates of �00. If the expiration date was �00, the card was rejected, even though there was money in the account. In August of 1999, satellites will have to go through a date check and no one knows what will happen when that occurs. So, how will this affect you?

    Let�s start with a short checklist to determine if you are vulnerable:

If you found you were vulnerable, would you do something about it?

If no, then stop reading; if yes, continue
1.Do you own a computer(s)?YN
2.Was it bought before 1997?YN
3.Is your computer a 486, 386, 286?YN
4.If you own more than one computer, are they connected (networked)?YN
5.Are you currently using DOS-based programs (software)?YN
6.Are the other programs you use Y2K compliant?YN
7. If the programs you use cannot handle dates correctly, do you know what effect that would have on keeping your business functioning (payroll, taxes, dairy management, etc.)?YN
8.Do you own equipment, machinery, or electronic devices that use computer chips of any kind (most of you can answer yes, and read about them further on)?YN
9.Have you determined what effect a non-compliant supplier (feed, parts, etc.) would have on your dairy?YN
10.Have you determined what effect a non-compliant customer (i.e. milk producer, etc.) would have on your dairy?YN

    If you answered Yes to Questions 2 - 6, or 8 and No to the rest (or some combination), then you are vulnerable to having a problem with Y2K. So where do you begin?

    You need to begin by evaluating the following areas:     

    Evaluation of your computer BIOS and hardware involves rolling over the computer�s internal clock to January 1, 2000 to determine if it can handle going from 1999 to 2000. It also involves checking several other dates such as February 29, 2000 (2000 is a leap year). Even though rolling over the date is relatively simple, make sure you back up your system and have a BOOT disk available in case your machine does not recover from the experience. Evaluation of the BIOS and computer hardware can by done by the use of commercial software, or hire someone to do it for you (be careful of legal liabilities). As a rule of thumb, a computer built before 1997 probably is NOT compliant, and about half of those from early 1997 may not be either. Computers being bought right now probably are fine.


    Software is also a problem. For example, I came home from the meeting and checked my spreadsheet to see how it would handle the dates by putting in 12/29/99 in one cell and 1/1/00 in another, then subtracted the two dates from each other. If the software were correctly interpreting the dates, the answer would be 3. I got 36,521. It thought 1/1/00 was 1 January 1900. Questions regarding whether your software is compliant need to be directed to the company that makes the software. Most major companies have a web site that lists their software and which versions are compliant. If you are using software that the company does not have listed on a web site, you need to contact the company directly and ask. When you ask, make sure you find out what tests they used to determine whether or not the program is compliant. There is no standardized set of tests that defines compliance. Older software, especially if it is a DOS-based program, should be carefully evaluated and upgraded or replaced. For example, DHI-Provo is completing changes to its DOS-based Plus program and will be contacting you regarding any upgrades; their Windows-based program is compliant.

Embedded Systems

    An embedded system is a computer chip (microchip) that contains software �burned into� it and possesses computer logic. These are used inside a piece of electronic equipment. These things are everywhere from the 20 or so in your automobile to your FAX machine and microwave. They are so common that most people don�t even know they are there. In agriculture, things such as feeding systems, milking parlors, tractors, grain elevators and grain analysis equipment, pagers, meters such as those on newer gas pumps, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and security systems are just a very few examples of items which contain these chips. Of all of the things that could affect you most, this is the area of greatest concern to me because of the inability to fully inventory systems containing chips or being able to test them. My advice is to inventory all you can find, then contact the company and ask about Y2K compliance. Get their answer in writing and be sure to ask how they tested their equipment for compliance. As I have looked around the Internet for information from milking equipment manufacturers and tractor dealers, most don�t seem to think there will be any problems, but it appears that many of them haven�t done adequate checks.

Suppliers/Customers (i.e. milk processor)

    Another source of danger to your business will arise if your suppliers and customers (i.e. milk processor) are unable to function because they are not compliant. CNN ran a story about a month ago in which they asked a dairy farmer in Georgia about the Y2K problem on his farm. His response was that he had just finished having it checked and he was fine, but his milk processor had checked and if they did not correct a problem, when 2000 came around it would have shut down the whole processing portion of the plant. Will your feed company be unable to supply feed to you for some period of time after January 1, 2000? Will your milk processor be unable to take your milk if they have a problem with embedded systems? I think it would be appropriate to ask these kinds of questions and find out if they are working on evaluating and correcting any potential problems. If they can�t function, neither can you.


    USU Extension is currently planning a satellite broadcast to review this problem in more depth, so watch for that. In addition, we are going to try and assemble a Y2K One-Stop Web page to help you get information. It will be accessible through the USU Dairy Extension Web Site, so watch for that also. There is a help desk run by the Small Business Administration in Washington, D.C., for call-in questions. The number is 1-800-Y2K HELP (1-800-925-7557). The Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), Small Business Administration, and Small Business Development Center can also provide help. In addition, information will be available at each county Extension office, or you can contact me at (435) 797-3763 and I will try to find an answer to your question.

    The Y2K problem is a business problem. The question is what effect will this problem have on your business? If it were me, I would be asking those questions now because as January 1 gets closer, you will have fewer options available if you do have a problem. If you don�t have a problem, peace of mind is worth a lot also. ©