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Corn+Soybean Digest

Why Worry About Y2K?

I'm sick, really sick, of Y2K talk. But perhaps I and others in agriculture shouldn't be, especially as we continue our global reach.

Maybe we're so focused on whether pickups will start on Jan. 1, as Iowa State University President Martin Jischke recently pointed out at a meeting, that we're not taking enough of a big-picture look at the Y2K problem. It's massive.

Y2K, by the way, stands for the "Year 2000." That's when early programmers tried to save memory space and only used two digits to identify the years. So 1998 became 98 and the year 2000 became 00. That means 2000 would look the same as 1900, throwing off calculations involving dates.

I'm not an alarmist. In fact, in situations like this I assume there's someone who's so smart he or she will discover a last-minute solution for the problem. Does such a super programmer exist? I hope so. But meanwhile, the clock is ticking and we're only nine months away from 2000.

Here in the U.S., the problem gets plenty of attention and we're told not to sweat it. Some, of course, are. I've heard of people already stockpiling food, water and even ammo.

However, my big worry lies overseas with countries using our technology and computers to run their governments.

Russia, for example, has asked the U.S. for $3 billion to tackle its Y2K problem. It's worried about computer glitches related to its nuclear weapons. Does the country have missiles pointed our direction programmed with the Y2K bug? Or, are there nuclear power plants run by computers, like Chernobyl, that could suffer meltdowns?

The cost is staggering for a country like Russia, with mounting debt and an overall budget of just $21 billion in revenue. None of that, by the way, is earmarked for Y2K. The country is more worried about feeding its masses.

In emerging China, the Beijing Morning Post reported a survey of the country's most crucial enterprises. More than half didn't even know how to detect the computer glitch in their systems.

Again, here in the U.S. our biggest worries are if the pickup or tractor will start. Companies like John Deere, according to Don Manor, its Y2K guru, have spent millions preparing for the problem. However, he says if you have a problem on Jan. 1, call your local dealer. Also, check out Deere's Web site at www. for Y2K updates.

So as in all of agriculture, perhaps we need to focus more globally. And even though we're tired of hearing about Y2K, we better pay attention and be prepared. Our supercomputer programmer hero just might save the day.

For more on the Y2K issue, see "Farmers Aren't Immune To The Millennium Bug," in Mid-February Soybean Digest; or access the story on our Web site (www. Also, check out major implement companies' Web sites. Many, like John Deere, have sections devoted just to the Y2K problem.

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