22 October 1999

MILLENNIUM

BUG

GUIDE

Only ten weeks to go before Jan 1, 2000 finally arrives.

Wondering whether the millennium bug will affect you?

David Cousins and Suzie Horne try to provide some answers

MAYBE there is someone, somewhere who hasnt heard of the millennium bug. A hermit perhaps, or one of the cosmonauts on the Mir space station.

But its unlikely. For the potential problems that could be caused by computers getting their dates in a twist come 1 Jan have been trumpeted from the rooftops for at least a couple of years now.

So of course every farmer in the land can settle back in their armchair, bathed in the satisfaction that comes from knowing theyve already done whats necessary. That is, contacted the supplier of every bit of computer software and other high-tech equipment on the farm, established that everythings fully Year 2000-compliant and made contingency plans in case something goes wrong.

Er, well, thats the theory. In practice, it doesnt take a mind-reader to guess that many (probably most) of us have yet to do any such thing. Well, the good news is that theres still time to get things sorted; the bad news is that time is running out fast.

What type of machines are affected?

Basically anything that is date-aware, ie records the day, month and year as part of its mechanism and acts on it. The most common piece of farm equipment that comes into this category is the farm computer and the software that runs on it, but certain other categories of machine may also be affected. These include the more sophisticated type of feeding and ventilation equipment for livestock and cropstore buildings, some security systems, fire and burglar alarms, some weighbridges, some GPS-related equipment, even some milking parlour equipment.

If the equipment was bought in the last year or two, it seems reasonable to assume that its Year 2000-ready. However that may be a risky assumption to make, suggests the governments millennium bug task force Action 2000. So you should contact the maker or supplier of all equipment you suspect might be affected.

So what is the list for?

Action 2000 carried out a survey of equipment used in farming to establish how far it had got down the road of millennium compliance.

The aim was not to provide an exhaustive list of all software and equipment on the market, but a snapshot of the industry. The companies chosen were asked about all their relevant products and to say exactly which ones were millennium compliant, which ones were largely compliant but might still have minor glitches and which ones were not compliant. They also had to go back through past versions and identify the point at which a product became compliant.

We should emphasise that companies have been steadily working through their product list and ensuring that everything they make is Year 2000-ready. So even if a product wasnt Year 2000 compliant at the time this list was compiled (several weeks ago), it may well be now. The rule, as with everything, is check with the supplier.