As 1999 begins to fade, the fabled Y2K issue comes into sharp focus. The big question: Are you and your farm prepared?

So far, most of the Y2K talk has been about computers and software, while embedded chips have received little attention. Embedded chips are computer chips placed inside equipment, machinery and other non-computer electronic products.

"We find (embedded) computer chips in virtually every part of the business," says Wayne Hansen, University of Minnesota extension educator. They need to be identified and checked for Y2K readiness.

Here's what equipment might utilize, and be affected by, embedded chips: tractors and other motorized equipment; ventilation systems; electronic scales; security systems; fire, smoke and heat alarms; and electrical load controllers.

Identify items that may use embedded chips by looking for: * Any digital display. * A keyboard or keypad. * Connections to wire circuits that may control the system. * Connection to a phone line or antennae. * Operations based on a calendar. * Any device relying on a global positioning system (GPS).

Once found, experts say it's important to prioritize these items. Systems that are critical to daily operations should come first.

You'll need to collect some basic equipment information like the manufacturer, make or model, year and serial number.

Then contact your dealer or manufacturer to find out if the equipment is Y2K ready. Many manufacturers have Web sites where this information is posted.

Also, have a contingency plan in place. Know what you'll do if a critical system isn't Y2K-ready and does fail.

For more information, check with your local extension office or visit these Web sites: Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Canadian Farm Business Management Council's Time To Act: The Year 2000 Computer Bug and Agriculture: www.cfbmc. com/y2k/english/html/booklet1.html.

The University of Minnesota Extension Service offers Farmers' Y2K Planning Checklist at: www3.extension.umn.edu/projects/y2k/farm.html.

University of Massachusetts' Extension has a state-by-state listing of Y2K links: www.umass. edu/umext/y2k/y2k_us.html.