SEDALIA, Mo. – In less than 24 hours, the 121st Missouri State Fair will kick off in Pettis County. If you’re one of the roughly 350,000 fairgoers, you can expect to pay more for a corn dog, drink, and sandwich.
Besides supply chain issues, drought conditions could also affect the annual 11-day event that showcases one of Missouri’s top industries. On the fairgrounds Tuesday, final touches were being made as livestock and campers started filing into the barns and campgrounds.
“The cost of shipping for everybody involved, so the cost of food has gone up,” Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said.
While the price of admission for the fair isn’t changing, there’s a good chance the drought could take a toll on those coming to Sedalia.
“We finally got rain; it just came along too late,” Wolfe said. “Our pastures at home were 5% of the hay that we would normally get, so it’s been pretty rough.”
The Missouri Department of Agriculture has previously said farmers have had to make tough decisions this year, like sending cattle to market early due to a lack of feed. Even with the recent rainfall, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, parts of the state are still in an extreme drought, including Pettis County.
“I think that it certainly is going to have an effect from a financial standpoint for our families,” Wolfe said. “I know these folks spend a lot of money to come and be here over the full course of the fair.”
On Tuesday, the fairgrounds were filled with hustle and bustle as campsites were set up, carnival rides were assembled, final touches were put on food stands, and cattle were spruced up for the big shows.
“It tends to be that people will come in on the weekend; folks come in, get set up, go back to work and work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and come back for the fair,” Wolfe said.
Before last year’s fair, Wolfe said crews on the fairgrounds faced shipping delays when it came to parts for equipment. He said supply chain issues are still a factor not only for the fair but also for fairgoers.
“As far as our exhibitors, we still have a few that have not returned simply because they still struggle to have enough, keep up with their sales, and still have something left for display,” Wolfe said. “So, they have opted out simply because they don’t have anything to put on their spot.”
Back in 2021, Wolfe said the fair was short 500 employees, requiring others to work double shifts. Last year, the General Assembly approved $500,000 to increase employees’ wages. He said the number of seasonal workers is up this year compared to years past.
“I think that’s really helped, and I saw the numbers come back last year; we were in pretty good shape, and I think we are better this year,” Wolfe said. “We’ll still be a little shorthanded, but I think we’ll get by.”
This year, lawmakers also approved $55 million for a new enclosed climatized arena on the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.
“Our current state fair arena is open air,” Wolfe said. “It’s our only full-sized rodeo arena and yet the seating has no covers, the arena has no covers, so it’s very susceptible to weather.”
Wolfe said the goal is to break ground later this fall and it should take two years to build the large structure.
The General Assembly also approved the money to purchase an additional 201 acres to the west of the fairgrounds, expanding the campus from 396 acres to 597 acres.
“We’re getting ready to hopefully break ground. Maybe this fall, if not this spring, to put in 600 to 700 more campsites, which we’re solely in need of,” Wolfe said.
On average, the fair brings in roughly $5 million but Wolfe said that’s also what it takes to put the event on. He said for the past two years, the carnival has brought in record amounts of revenue.
“Last year, about $1.4 million in revenue through the carnival,” Wolfe said. “We had gone years and they never topped a million for ride growth for ticket sales and then two years ago we hit $1.2 million and last year $1.4 million. “I think people were ready to get back out. COVID just changed everything for a while, and I think people are ready to get back out and have some fun.
This will also be Wolfe’s last year as fair director. After 15 years, the longest any director has served, Wolfe said he is retiring. He said he’s looking forward to coming to the fair next year as a fairgoer.
“I look back on it, and I thought that 15 years went by quick,” Wolfe said. “At fair time, my favorite thing to do is go watch those kids exhibit when I get a chance. I’m really going to look forward to having more time to do that next year.”
Wolfe came to the Missouri State Fair as the facilities manager in 2004, before becoming the director in 2009.
The Missouri State Fair offers many shows, events, and your favorite fair food. Visit the state fair’s website for the daily list of events.
The fair runs Aug. 10-20. The fair kicks off on Thursday with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. with Gov. Mike Parson, Lt. Governor Mike Kehoe, and Wolfe.
Tickets for adults over 13 years old cost $15. Tickets for kids between the ages of 6-12 are $4. Senior citizens older than 60 can get tickets for $10, and kids under 5 are free.