During July in the Ozarks, you’ll see a few combines rolling through the hills and valleys of cattle country. Farmers are harvesting fescue seed that will eventually seed someone’s yard or hayfield. The small combines, Gleaners and an old pull behind Allis-Chalmers in our case, were once a beast in their own right, but they pale compared to the size and power of new harvest equipment. When these old machines were “put out to pasture,” they found a second life harvesting fescue.

As a kid, I wasn’t a fan of the all-day ride-along in the non-air-conditioned, loud, dusty equipment, but the evening trip to deliver the seed is what I enjoyed. Milan’s, a seed buyer in Bucyrus, was on a prominent hilltop. While unloading seed, we could watch the scheduled and random fireworks from miles around.

In the last couple of years, firework displays have been thin due to extreme drought. But timely precipitation through the first half of 2024 has helped abate the dark red on the weekly drought monitor. There are still a few pockets of dryness, but it’s an improvement from 12 months ago.

One thing that has yet to improve over the last year is the grocery bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual market basket survey shows that a summer cookout for ten people is up five percent from last year and up thirty percent from five years ago. According to the study, the average cost for a ten-person grilling feast is $71.22 or about $7.12 a person. This is a record-high price for the annual survey, which began in 2013.

The review looks at twelve items commonly found on the shopping list for the Independence Day celebrations. It covers the main course of beef, pork and chicken to the popular extras of potato salad, strawberries and ice cream.

Unsurprisingly, the retail price of two pounds of ground beef is up 11% to $12.77. The drought and the lack of forage forced a lot of ranchers to sell some of their herd, reducing the amount of beef available for summer grilling.

The cost of lemonade, a typical summer thirst quencher, is up 12%, to an average of $4.19. Higher lemon prices are attributed to citrus greening disease. The fruit-killing disease has now spread to California after devastating Florida’s citrus industry.

There were two exceptions to higher prices on the shopping list. The cost of potato salad and two pounds of chicken declined 4% from a year ago to $3.32 and $7.83, respectively.

The market basket survey is just a snapshot, but it reflects the challenges felt nationwide. Farmers are price takers, not price makers. They are paying more for supplies needed to produce the food we eat, and like other consumers, they are also paying more at the grocery store.

Despite these challenges and others, the U.S. still has one of the safest and most affordable food supplies. From the food on our table to the fuel in our cars or the grass seedlings speckling a new lawn, the diversification and quality of goods provided by the nation’s ag sector is an inspiration, and another reason to celebrate Independence Day.

I hope you and your loved ones will have time this week to fire up the grill, have some fun and enjoy the view wherever you are.