SEDALIA, Mo. – Two weeks from Thursday, the 120th Missouri State Fair will kick off in Pettis County. But supply chain issues and the drought are expected to take a toll on the 11-day event.
More than 330,000 are expected to attend the fair next month. It was two years ago the fair took a different route – no concerts, grandstand events, or carnival; just a youth livestock show. Last year, the fair returned to normal. Fairgoers can once again expect the same but what could be different is the cost of food and the price to get to Sedalia.
“We’ve had some conversation with some of our food vendors and they are struggling a little bit to get products,” Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said Thursday. “I think folks are probably going to see some increase in cost when they come to the fair.”
The price of admission to the fair isn’t changing. Adults over 13 years old cost $12, kids between the ages of 6 and 12 are $3, senior citizens older than 60 are $8 and kids under 5 are free. On the first day of the day, gate admission all day for anyone 13 years and older is $5.
“The state fair commission this year opted not to raise admission to the fair,” Wolfe said. “Looking back right now, we probably will regret that a little, but I think we are going to be fine.”
Besides inflation, crews on the fairgrounds are facing delays when it comes to equipment.
“We couldn’t buy oil filters for mowers, we couldn’t find them,” Wolfe said. “We couldn’t find heads to go on the weed eaters, just simple things you never thought about not being available until suddenly there was a shortage, or you couldn’t get them.”
More than 75% of the state is also in a drought. According to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor that was released Thursday morning, more than 20 counties are in an extreme drought, including Greene, Taney, Newton, Jasper, Ozark, and Polk counties.
“I expect it will affect numbers a little bit,” Wolfe said. “Our entry numbers are really good at this point in time, but people have been planning that, so I would expect some people to pull back, maybe pull out.”
Wolfe said his parents are farmers down in Texas County, where his dad is already feeding hay, something that normally doesn’t happen until the fall.
“We’ve been fortunate here [Sedalia], we’ve been in the drought but we’re finally getting some relief, some cooler temperatures, and had several days of rain,” Wolfe said. “The drought, the cost of fuel, maybe some of those people are going to change their mind before the fair.”
The average price of gas in Missouri is $3.94 and $4.95 for diesel, according to AAA. This week was the first time the state’s average dropped below $4 per gallon since May 11.
“You start talking about diesel, folks coming to the fair with livestock are using a lot of those types of vehicles,” Wolfe said. “There’s no question that it’s going to be a concern.”
Last year, Wolfe said the fair was short 500 employees, requiring others to work double shifts.
“Folks were putting in 300 to 400 hours for the fair and if you took what they were getting paid and divided that out, some were getting paid five to six dollars an hour,” Wolfe said. “We hadn’t had any funding to help with the operation of the fair really since 2009 and we were kind of doing it on our own dime.”
Wolfe said it was hard to compete with minimum wage, but earlier this year, lawmakers approved $500,000 to increase employees’ wages.
“We’re not paying anybody less than $15 an hour this year,” Wolfe said. “We made a sizable jump in what we were paying.”
On average, the fair brings in $5 million, but Wolfe says that’s also what it takes to put on the fair. Throughout the 11 days, fairgoers and exhibitors will fill up the 1,800 campsites on the grounds.
“We have folks that come out here and this is their summer vacation,” Wolfe said. “We have folks out there that maybe only come into the fairgrounds and pay admission three or four days out of the 11. We probably have somewhere between 9,000 folks camping in the campgrounds during the fair.”
The General Assembly also approved $9 million to purchase 200 acres west of the fairgrounds to install and construct 600 more 50 amp campsites. The state fair is also receiving American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money to construct a new covered arena, costing $29.4 million and $3 million to improve the water quality around the campus. Overall, Wolfe said the state fair received more than $46 million from lawmakers in the budget.
In the past week, there have been 13,000 new COVID cases in the state, which is why there is still hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations available on the fairgrounds. Wolfe said that extra sanitation will also happen in restrooms.
The Missouri State Fair offers many shows, events, and of course, your favorite fair food. Visit the state fair’s website for the daily list of events.
“I don’t eat a corndog all year long but when the state fair starts, that first footlong corndog slathered in mustard just is pretty hard to beat,” Wolfe said.
The fair runs from August 11-21. The fair kicks off on Thursday with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. with Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe, and Wolfe.