Ag Readiness - Is this Good News or Bad? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

From "Ag Alert" - Newsletter of the California Farm Bureau Federation, October 27 edition

Y2K--Millennium bomb or middling pest? By Dick Fay

"There's a new pest coming to town. Not an outbreak of aphids, thrips, leaf rust or spider mites, but something big and bad that we've never seen before. Imagine this bug is hard to detect and harder to predict, thrives in all seasons, fears no natural predators and ignores insecticides, herbicides, fungicides and anything else we can think to throw at it.

"That's the scenario confronting growers and processors from the Y2K computer bug. Some call it The Millennium Bomb; others just a middling pest. U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, including Deputy Secretary Richard E. Rominger, predict that it may have little effect. Another department expert has said, "It could be like a threeday snowstorm ... or a total disaster. We don't really know." Certainly the estimated worldwide cost of this cyberspace bug is enough to catch our attention $300 billion to $600 billion according to Business Week, and up to $1 trillion according to the respected research organization, The Gartner Group.

"So are growers, packers, advisors and suppliers panicking or frantic with preparation? Hardly. Y2K doesn't even make the cut for coffee conversation. How come?

"Are they like heads of some corporations who consider Y2K a teapot tempest rather than a ticking time bomb? Haven't they heard that many organizations are running 'round the clock to fix and test their computer-driven automated systems, while others are taking radical precautions, like the major international airline that cancelled all flights on Jan. 1, 2000?

"Perhaps the problem itself isn't understood. Y2K was caused by a programming shortcut made years ago that affects how software and embedded microchips perform time-dating computer functions today. These electronic Einsteins work fine crunching numbers for this century but not for 2000 and beyond. And the impact will be astronomical, according to respected Y2K experts John Petersen and Margaret Wheatley. They say the bug is lodged in billions of lines of code affecting "millions" of time-dating functions that drive things like traffic lights, satellites, environmental control systems, financial systems, transportation operations, utility facilities, accounting and inventory control, medical and hospital operations, agricultural field work, processing and shipping.

"To see where the industry is on Y2K, Ag Alert. contacted California growers and processors, scientists and advisors with the University of California and USDA program leaders.

"One of the first things we did," said Dona Mast of Mast & Son farming operation in Woodland, was to replace all computer software and hardware used for vital office functions like payroll, forecasting and scheduling certain field operations. The firm, which has 3,000 acres in tomatoes and sunflowers, decided it was a good time to upgrade anyway. With generators recently acquired for pumping gas, phone lines intact and plenty of food on hand, Mast said she is more than ready for Y2K. "But just in case, I certainly won't be taking a plane anywhere on Jan. 1, and I'll be sure to have a good book and a glass of wine handy."

"USDA Deputy Secretary Rominger's Winters operation is now operated as Rominger Brothers by his sons who grow many crops ranging from tomatoes and rice to grape rootstock on 3,000 acres. He says that the operation has long been prepared for Y2K.

"Scott Deardorff, Ventura grower with 1,000 acres in strawberries, vegetables and lemons, has tested all computer systems and taken precautions against the millennium bug in all field operations also. He uses moveable pipe systems and fuel-driven machinery, but also relies on electrical power for wind machines and the like. "We have assurances that our power company will be ready, but we also have fuel generators on hand if we need them. If there is a frost, everybody will pitch in to help. I'm not worried."

"Ventura citrus and avocado grower Randy Axell said Y2K is more of a pest that plague for him since his operations are mostly manual or machine-driven.

"Richard Pidduck, citrus and avocado farmer and president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said the problem is "significant but overblown. My computers are relatively new and all but one of our applications is ready for next year, and I know which one that is." As for power interruptions, he thinks that an outage is more likely to come from a car hitting a power pole than from Y2K. Pidduck conceded that local farming depends on international markets and could be affected by failures in other countries.

"Chuck Ahlem had a different outlook in his role as a Turlock dairyman than as a partner in Hilmar Cheese Co. He said that all automated operations in the office and in the barn are Y2K-compliant. "But there certainly is a potential problem if you don't take simple precautions, like contacting equipment makers." He added wryly that he hasn't found a single embedded microchip in the 1,600 "production units" that he milks.

"Because Hilmar Cheese processes are heavily automated, Y2K is more critical for Ahlem. "Anyone who has done their homework knows prudent preparation is better than panic, especially at the processing end. We rely on just-in-time inventory and use of ingredients, chemicals, wrappings and other materials to make production efficient and keep quality high. Computers drive much of the process. It's got to be flawless." The company has been working on compliance for two years, hosting meetings with producers and suppliers, getting written compliance letters from equipment manufacturers, and testing all systems.

"Flawless operation is the goal of Grimmway Farms. The Bakersfield grower-packer-shipper, with 40,000 acres in carrots, also has been after Y2K for over two years. It took a cross-company committee and a team of six computer jocks, and a dedicated test lab under Information Services Director Gary Bumgarner to complete the job. Bumgarner said that it was more cost effective to replace all office systems with new computers and programs. Systems running the field and plant operations, on the other hand, were upgraded, then tested for compliance in the lab.

"Rominger thinks that Y2K may be a non-issue for growers because they are ready for it. "The publicity has actually helped us all," he said. "At the department, we've been communicating and holding meetings with growers, suppliers, processors, shippers and others and in the industry. A lot of guidelines have been provided, including on our Web sites."

"Nevertheless, Pidduck, Deardorff and Larry Yee, UC Cooperative Extension director in Ventura County, are among many concerned about the Y2K hit from foreign countries that aren't ready for it. Rominger said, "We've checked the readiness of overseas financial, transportation and other facilities which affect U.S. agriculture, including investigating ocean and surface shipping and port facilities in countries handling our products. I don't expect any impact on us from these areas." An example of readiness, he said, is the recent, successful test of the computerized Global Positioning System. GPS has critical applications like international navigation but is also used for measuring yields, plotting fertilizer and pest control programs, identifying soil types and other agricultural uses.

"Ted Maher, USDA program leader for industrial extension/technology transfer, said, "Y2K could be a like a three-day snowstorm ... or a total disaster if growers aren't prepared." A recent survey by field investigators found that growers in some areas are underestimating Y2K.

"All "technologically advanced" Midwestern farms in the survey had vital systems containing non-compliant Y2K computer software or embedded chips. They controlled such operations such as:

-- marsh (, November 04, 1999


"Some operators are still playing catchup while others will never be ready."

I think this says it all...

-- Mad Monk (, November 04, 1999.

Here's the answer:

"Corporal, round up that group over there, all you city slickers in the truck, gonna work farm detail today. Ok, now you 6 men are gonna pull the plow, what? here, dance suckers (pow,pow). Now go get the damn plow. You four pump water from that well. You ladies grab these watering cans and water the 100 acres to the south. These 10 here are pulling weeds today." "Sarge, what about the 3 blondes?" "Oh, yeah, you three get to be the scarecrows today, go over there and flap your arms all day."

-- Bill (, November 04, 1999.

Marsha, perhaps you can take a look it this one. This is the USDA import/export y2k readiness by country document. even with the caveats, it holds a lot of sunshine.


-- Mitchell Barnes (, November 04, 1999.

Thanks, Mitchell. Will check it out.

-- marsh (, November 05, 1999.

I'd like to recommend some of you go out and rent "Threads" from your local video stores.

While the cause of everyone's problems seem to be an atomic war "somewhere else" the story shows the systematic breakdown of a town when cut off from the rest of the world. No suppliers to restock shelves, no govt agencies to come to the rescue with food and/or water.

The best part though was the end when military trucks with food did show up. The catch was the food was not for the people. It was for those who were willing to toil in the fields. A very realistic return to fuedilism (sp?) without firing a shot. Just control the food

-- thomas thatcher (, November 05, 1999.

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