"Farmers face threat from new pest--Y2K bug"

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Another reason to think world politics could be more complicated next year...



Farmers face threat from new pest -- Y2K bug

09:45 a.m. Apr 19, 1999 Eastern

ROME, April 19 (Reuters) - Farmers, who have fought for years to protect their crops against killer diseases and ravaging insects, now face a threat from a new pest -- the millennium computer bug.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Monday the millennium bug might harm global agricultural production and food supplies.

``The millennium bug could prove one of the most dangerous pests threatening farmers, along with the locusts and brown planthoppers they have battled with throughout the centuries,'' FAO said in a statement.


According to FAO, agriculture and food supply systems depend widely on computers, and the issue has not received enough attention.

``In one way or another, year 2000 computer problems threaten almost all of the supplies and services essential for agricultural production,'' FAO said.

The organisation said the entire agricultural process was vulnerable to the problem, from seed supplies for remote farmers to high-tech computerised distribution networks.

FAO said countries that depend on exports of agricultural products as a major source of income and countries that rely on food imports and food aid to feed their people were especially under threat.

The Rome-based agency also said vital information on weather, prices and shipping would be affected.

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


-- Kevin (mixesmusic@worldnet.att.net), April 19, 1999


Thanks, Kevin.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Rome, Italy (FAO)


News Highlights: The Millenium Bug threatens food supply systems - developing countries are also vulnerable, FAO warns ...

http:// www.fao.org/news/1999/990302-e.htm

The so-called "Millenium Bug" - or Year 2000 (Y2K) problem - which could throw computers into chaos at the turn of the century, threatens serious repercussions for food supplies in developing countries. FAO has warned that, "at least in the near term, the Millenium Bug could prove to be one of the most dangerous pests threatening farmers, along with the locusts and brown planthoppers they have battled with throughout the centuries".

Governments and industries in developed countries have been working for years to anticipate potentially disastrous problems with computer systems and all that they control as we enter the third millenium. The total cost of achieving Y2K compliance has been estimated by the Gartner Group at US$600 billion. But developing countries typically lack the resources and the capability to take the same precautions. In particular, very little attention has been paid to the dependence of agriculture and food supply systems on computers.

FAO has warned that the whole of the food chain - from seed supplies through to distribution networks and market information systems - is vulnerable to the Y2K problem: "Even small farmers who till their fields with ox-drawn ploughs probably rely on supplies produced in high-tech factories and transported thousands of kilometres over computer-controlled transportation networks." On the production side, this means that basic inputs like seeds and fertilizers could be threatened - as well as supplies of irrigation water and electricity.

Transportation is the weakest link in the food chain

Computer malfunctions are also likely to cause severe problems once crops are harvested in the processing, marketing and distribution systems that are crucial to food security at national and household levels. Most experts pinpoint transportation as the weakest link in the food chain.

In many countries, the computerized telephone switching systems are also thought to be highly likely to fail. Farmers, traders and ministries rely on telecommunications systems to deliver a steady flow of information on weather, prices and shipping. "If you don't know who needs grain," asked Geri Guidetti, who moderates an Internet forum on Y2K and agriculture, "if you don't know what global prices are ... what's going to happen to the normal grain commerce?"

The possible impact of Year 2000 problems on agricultural production, trade and transport poses a particular threat to:

 countries that depend heavily on exports of agricultural commodities as a major source of income;

 countries that rely on food imports and food aid to feed their people.

Contingency plans to cope with computer failure are one solution

FAO has advised that, in many cases, the most realistic approach may be to concentrate limited time and resources on developing and implementing contingency plans to cope with failures that countries do not have the means to prevent. Such plans would include diversifying sources of supplies and services in order to reduce the impact of failure by any one supplier, as well as taking steps to ensure that failures are promptly identified and alternative delivery systems are ready to be called on if computer systems fail.

In some cases, farmers and governments may decide to review the level of their food security stocks and inventories of essential agricultural inputs. But FAO warns that this should be done with care not to exacerbate the "Fear 2000 problem", whereby panic buying and hoarding could have worse effects than the feared computer malfunctions.

Also ...

For futher details ...

Download the FAO brochure on Food, agriculture and the millenium bug in pdf

http:// www.fao.org/news/1999/img/Y2K-e.pdf

Other useful United Nations links ...

UN United Nations web-site


United Nations News


United Nations Whats New


UN & Year 2000 (Y2K) Transition Challenge

http://www.un.org/members/ yr2000/

UN web-site Search


U.N. System of Organizations


Official WEB Site Locator for the UNITED NATIONS System of Organizations

The list is in alphabetical order by agency name.

http://www.unsystem.org/ index8.html

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), April 19, 1999.

So much for us doom 'n gloomers, eh? We gleaned the same conclusions from the Y2K Food Supply hearings a couple of months ago. (Pun intended.) Good to see our deductions confirmed by such an august body.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), April 19, 1999.

Bought your seeds yet? Don't forget to buy a year or two's worth of fertilizer and minerals while it's in stock and available at reasonable prices.


-- Wildweasel (vtmldm@epix.net), April 19, 1999.

I disagree with the conclusion that "transportation is the weakest like - In my opinion - as umble as it should be - the food processing industries (storage, "fabrication", packaging, and handling, cutting, trimming, cooking, measuring, flipping, folding, weaving, twisting, baking, bagging, .....) is far more vunerable to small lots of little glitches in tightly controlled processes.

After all, what do you do with 10,000 lbs of busted potato(e) chips? Can't sell 'em, and the waste is edible, but not shippable to where it might be needed.

If you can't sell 'em, no profit for farmer or food processer, nor shipper, nor grocery owner. Multiply that times many many thousand processing and storage plants. Good thing is: some may be shut down at that time, other could even slow down until process controllers and systems can get repaired, but it still means disruptions.

-- Robert A. Cook, PE (Kennesaw, GA) (cook.r@csaatl.com), April 20, 1999.

I remember also reading somewhere about a year ago that the quality-testing machines are filled with embedded chips. So we need to be on the lookout for tainted eats after the rollover, too.


-- jhollander (hollander@ij.net), April 20, 1999.

Mrs. Hollander: yes, ma'am. FIFO (first-in, first-out) systems in processing/distribution plants could cause problems for the short- lived perishables (hamburger, chicken, etc).... if TS doesn't HTF, you still might want to stock up on a month's or so worth of meats prior to the rollover.

-- Lisa (lisa@work.now), April 20, 1999.

I humbly suggest that plastics and similar items are going to be one of the biggest lacks we're going to see post-Y2K.

Have you ever bought a package of meat sitting on display, a tub of yogurt, half a dozen bagels, etc. without plastic? Even if everything works perfectly, the trade issues and raw materials issues with overseas are going to be difficult. How many people can go find an extra tree, chop it down, grind it up, make paper out of it, and use that paper to wrap your meat? What are you going to wrap it up in if you don't have a supply line of paper or plastic? I'm not trying to be silly, I'm just pointing out that there are a LOT of little details people forget about.

In my younger years (my first real job), at one point in this place I worked I was the purchasing agent. This was right about when AIDS hit the media, and latex vanished at the speed of light. No big deal, right? Well, hardly. We had to have latex gloves for the type of manufacturing we did. I spent days on the phone trying to locate some source, ANY source of latex gloves that hadn't sold everything they were ever GOING to make to hospitals and emergency crews et al. all over the world. Finally did, for a small fortune, for a truly suckey brand the guys in the plant hated.

Without latex gloves, innumerable emergency workers would get the diseases of the people they're treating. I sure hope that stuff is manufactured in the USA is all I can say.

What I can't really grok is why both AP and Reuters news services seem to be working for the US government. Or is it just that we don't hear their stuff unless someone in our own country passes it on? How come everybody can seem aware of the impact on other countries that Y2K will have, and yet say so little if anything about the obvious impact that THEIR demise is going to have on US? Even if our little corner is perfect?

PJ in TX

-- PJ Gaenir (fire@firedocs.com), April 21, 1999.

I work in the US ag sector and had ocassion to speak with a former President of the statewide ag organization with which we are affiliated. His "take" on y2k impacts was that transportation was the weak link.

If you can't move the raw product through to processing and the packaged product to distribution sites, it does not matter if those sites are "compliant." The grain stays in the field; the milk gets poured out, etc. I believe the averaged distance that each item travels from field to plate is in excess of 1,000 miles.

The transportation sector is a big unknown. We know maritime shipping is in very bad straits. Trains are..who really knows. Trucking is rarely discussed. It involves thousands of small businesses. Tractors (Big rigs) have all sorts of gizmos now and have panels that look like an airplane. They are probably repleat with embedded systems. Dispatch is most certainly highly computerized. Anyone read any articles on trucking? I haven't found any. The emphasis seems to be on airplanes, which are rarely used to transport food.

-- marsh (siskfarm@snowcrest.net), April 21, 1999.

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