13 August 1999

Take action now or your business might be at risk

With the millennium less

than five months away,

producers need to check

that the millennium bug

wont adversely affect their

businesses on Jan 1, 2000.

In the first of two articles,

Marianne Curtis finds out

how to make sure your new

year is happy

IT is not just the farm computer you need to be concerned about when it comes to the millennium bug, and failure to take action now could put your business at risk.

ADAS engineer Nigel Penlington says the only action that producers can take is writing to suppliers. There is no other way to tell if equipment is compliant, he warns.

Dairy producer Nick Hutchinson and his wife, Anne-Marie, who milk 170 dairy cows on 160ha (400 acres) of the Kedlington Estate in Derbyshire, have already written to computer, software, parlour and bulk tank suppliers.

Third parties which may affect the business including feed, water and electricity suppliers, their milk buyer and local auction mart, have also been contacted.

Replies have been reassuring, but updating their PC last year highlighted a software problem. "We changed our computer about a year ago and discovered our nine-year-old accounts program was not year 2000 compliant, so we upgraded it," says Mr Hutchinson.

But Mr Penlington warns that newer computers and software may not be compliant. "If you have computers and software, including dairy records, accounts and field records that are more than three years old, it is best to check compliance with the supplier."

Making back-ups of computer information is essential, believes Mr Hutchinson. "Losing our herd records would be catastrophic and cause absolute mayhem."

But checking compliance does not end with the farm computer, warns Mr Penlington. "Producers should begin by going round the whole business, starting with the microwave. Anything with key pads, a digital display, disk or smart card could cause problems."

Full details of all equipment that may be affected are given in the MAFF/NFU Millennium Bug Act Now! booklets. The list of vital equipment includes milking equipment, animal identification, feeder wagons, mill mixers, automatic scrapers, tractors and fertiliser spreaders with a digital display.

Producer-processors could also experience problems with date stamping machinery, adds Mr Penlington. "Some food processors have had to change date printers which only print two digits, for example 99, because 00 is not recognised as the year 2000."

A list of at-risk on-farm equipment should be made and prioritised according to how critical it is to the business, advises Mr Penlington. "Obviously animal welfare is a high priority, you need to be able to feed, water and milk cows."

Ensuring safety should also be paramount because the HSE has warned that staff and visitor safety must not be compromised by failure to address the millennium bug. The main areas of risk are forklifts with load sensors. These usually have automatic cut outs, but they may fail if forklifts are overloaded in 2000.

Writing to equipment suppliers early is the only way to be sure equipment is compliant and allows time for any non-compliance problems to be addressed.

"Machinery bought in the last 10 years needs to be checked. If it has been regularly serviced by the manufacturer, risk is lower. But where maintenance has been done on-farm, older microchips – which could cause problems – are unlikely to have been detected and replaced."

Even when you think you have thought of everything, contingency plans need to be in place in case problems remain unresolved or as an extra precaution.

"A generator can be used for milking if power supplies fail, but some generators are automatic, with electronic controls and these need to be checked," advises Mr Penlington.

Ensuring third party suppliers and your customers are year 2000 compliant is necessary to avoid potential concerns of no water, no electricity, no feed deliveries or inaccurate recording of milk volume if, or when, it is collected.

"Check your milk buyer, feed supplier, water and electricity company to make sure they are compliant," advises Mr Penlington.

"Write letters and make sure you get a letter back. Some letters can be vague but if critical equipment is involved you need an absolute assurance to avoid major disruption to your business."

Letters to third parties should ask about what action they are taking to ensure critical aspects of their business such as computer systems and suppliers are compliant, when they expect their systems to be fully compliant, and what contingency plans they have in place to deal with possible failures.

Expecting your insurance company to bale you out is not an option. "Check your insurance policy. Most insurers have included get-out clauses and wont insure a foreseeable risk. Problems arising from the millennium bug are seen by insurance companies to be preventable," he says.

lTackling millennium risks on pig units follows soon. &#42

WHAT TO ASK SUPPLIER

Letters to suppliers of equipment should include the following:

&#8226 Information about the equipment such as model number, serial number, date of purchase and manufacturer.

&#8226 Request for confirmation of year 2000 compliance as defined by The British Standards Institution.

&#8226 In the event of non-compliance of equipment ask: How it will be affected, whether the company is taking any action to make it compliant, whether it is providing year 2000 support for customers, what action you need to take.

Free booklets on the millennium bug, covering all farm enterprises are available from MAFF. To obtain a copy contact: MAFF Publications, Admail 6000, London SW1A 2XX (0645-556000).

MILLENNIUMBUG

&#8226 Find areas of risk.

&#8226 Seek assurances.

&#8226 Make contingency plans.