Farmers in south Alabama and the Wiregrass are working overtime to harvest peanuts before Tropical Storm Karen hits the coast. The storm reached sustained maximum winds of 65 miles an hour Thursday morning and is expected to make landfall near the Florida panhandle Saturday night or Sunday morning.
Baldwin County farmer Mark Kaiser, 46, said he is hustling to get his peanuts dug before soaked soil bogs down his harvest plans.
"If our peanuts are ready, we're digging them," he said Thursday afternoon. "We started today, and we're going to dig up as many of them as we can before the rain gets here."
Kaiser, who farms with his father, George, and brother, Greg, said it's better to have wet peanuts on top of the ground rather than bogged-down peanuts that can't be harvested. Peanut plants are inverted and the crop usually dries a day or two before being picked by another machine.
He said heavy rain won't affect his soybeans, which are two weeks away from harvest, but high winds could wreak havoc on the crop.
Mobile County farmer Bert Driskell said he is busy harvesting dug peanuts, and he's starting in fields that usually take longer to dry.
"After this storm, I imagine it will be four or five days before it's dry enough to get back in the fields, so that will put our harvest that much more behind," said Driskell, 68, who farms with his family. "We're still in fair shape, but you never know with these storms. The longer the wind blows, the less crops and trees can withstand it."
Driskell is concerned the wind will hurt his 3,400 acres of cotton. His farm started defoliating cotton, which removes leaves from the plant prior to harvest and can make cotton more vulnerable to wind.
Inland, Colby Willoughby of Houston County is picking peanuts, too, but he's most concerned about his 1,350 acres of cucumbers.
"If we get more than two inches of rain, it's going to be a serious problem," he said. "That much rain can cause cucumbers to rot. Too much rain also makes it impossible to get into the field to harvest the ones ready to be picked."
Coastal areas from Biloxi, Miss., to Pensacola, Fla., including Mobile and Baldwin counties in Alabama, are under a hurricane watch until further notice. The greatest threats with Tropical Storm Karen are coastal flooding, up to eight inches of rain and strong winds.
Under a hurricane watch, residents should remain vigilant and prepare homes and businesses for a possible hurricane landfall.
The National Weather Service suggests residents
- keep three days of supplies for each person per household
- remove loose items from yards
- have shutters or boards handy
- fill-up vehicle fuel tanks
- ensure flashlights and batteries work
- keep cash on hand