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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

The Year 2000 and Your Farm Business

Farm Business Management Update, August 1998

By Gordon Groover of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

The airways, cables, newspapers, magazines, etc. are all carrying stories about the problem with the world's computers when the calendar changes to the year 2000. This problem is commonly referred to as the "Y2K problem" or "millennium bug." Why is this a problem? As with many problems, it boils down to reducing costs. Early in computer technology, storage of data was expensive. To reduce data storage costs and processing time, dates were abbreviated from 4 digits (1977) to 2 digits (77). The result was a major cost saving for many companies, like banks, and governmental agencies, like Social Security Administration, that recorded a date for every transaction. Now, as we approach December 31, 1999 the full importance of this problem is becoming apparent, that is 00 in a date field 1900 or 2000 and more importantly how the computer code responds to 00. Many companies and agencies are working diligently to correct this problem, so what should you do with your farm or home computer to prepare for Y2K?

Problems with your home computer can be broken down into two groups: 1) problems with the operating system of your computer, e.g., DOS, Window 3.x, and Windows 95; and 2) specific software problems, e.g., QuickenÅ, QuickBooksÅ, Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, etc. If you own a Windows-based PC or an older DOS-based computer manufactured before 1995 and maybe 1996, you may be at risk for problems. The first step is to determine if your current operating system is Y2K ready. Start by contacting the original manufacture and find out if the computer you purchased is Y2K ready, if not ask about patches or fixes that may be available. If you cannot contact the original manufacturer or cannot get conclusive information, consider getting software from one of the sites listed below or contact a local computer dealer to test your system. Sites with Y2K information and testing software:

National Software Testing Labs

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

These sites also provide information about the Y2K problem and computer manufactures selling hardware with Year 2000 compliance. The simplest and least frustrating solution to this problem is to consider purchasing a new computer that is Y2K ready and take advantage of improved performance and speed. In no case should you set the operating system's date to the year 2000 to test out the problem on your computer. This procedure could result in your computer failing to start properly. If you own a Macintosh computer, there is little to be concerned about; however, I would contact Macintosh to verify that your system is Y2K ready.

Specific software used on your home computer can also present a problem when it encounters the year 2000. Most important among these are accounting and record keeping software used to maintain financial records. Financial records are important to all businesses for management decisions, tax purposes, and credit applicationa and documentation. Therefore, to insure that you can access your financial data after January 1, 2000, you should take special care to insure that your computer and record-keeping software are Y2K ready.

Once your computer is Y2K ready, you must know the exact version of the record keeping software you are using. This can usually be obtained from the "Help" screen within the software, e.g., Quicken version 6.0c or QuickBooks Pro version 5.0. You should contact the software manufacturer and verify that your version is fully Y2K ready. If it is not, plan to upgrade to a version of the software and import all data files to the newer software before January 1, 2000. Other software (spreadsheets and database programs) can be checked in a similar manner.

This method of testing and upgrading will work for most popular software (QuickBooks, Microsoft Excel, Access, Lotus, etc.). However, software written or developed specifically for your farm business can present a problem. In most cases, you will need to find the original programmer to check and correct any problems. This could be costly and require time on your part to insure that the software still meets your needs. An alternative is to find popular and easy-to-use software that can be adapted to your current needs and develop your own applications.

The Y2K problem on your farm can be solved, but start now and make sure you are prepared.

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