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June 27, 2014

Farm Beat: Cost of holiday grilling goes up

A typical July Fourth dinner for 10 adults costs $66.82 this year, up about $2 from last year and $15 from 2004, according to the Rabobank BBQ Index. It includes cheeseburgers, chicken, chips, soda, beer, ice cream and a few other items.

Independence Day should get us thinking about the price of freedom. The Revolutionary War took the lives of more than 4,000 Americans, and hundreds of thousands died in other wars in defense of the values enshrined on July 4, 1776.

So let’s not get too worked up about a related matter – the price of a Fourth of July barbecue. It’s going up, according to a survey released this week by Rabobank, a global institution heavily involved in Modesto-area agriculture.

A typical dinner for 10 adults costs $66.82 this year, up about $2 from last year and $15 from 2004, according to the Rabobank BBQ Index. It includes cheeseburgers, chicken, chips, soda, beer, ice cream and a few other items.

Beef rose the most over the past year, 14 percent, mainly because U.S. cattle numbers are at their lowest point in 63 years. Drought has played a large part, in the Midwest and Great Plains in 2012 and for three years now in California.

Chicken prices increased only 1 percent, something the poultry producers in and near Stanislaus County have noted as they urge consumers to stock up.

Cheese, another major local product, is up 11 percent, reflecting the increased export demand for dairy products. Chips are down, as is soda, while beer and ice cream have risen.

The upshot: “We think there will be more pluck than chuck this year as some consumers lean to chicken sandwiches over burgers,” said Bill Cordingley, head of food and agribusiness research at Rabobank, in a news release.

The index provides a handy service for consumers as Independence Day approaches. It’s similar to the Thanksgiving dinner price survey done for years by the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Even with prices rising, we should not complain. Most Americans still spend a very small percentage of their income on food, which leaves other money to circulate elsewhere in the economy.

And that food is more diverse, tasty and safe than what people in much of the world eat – or the rations provided to those upstart colonists nearly 240 years ago. In a 2011 article on Smithsonian.com, Lisa Bramen wrote that “the foods that sustained the American patriots – mostly preserved meats and flavorless flour cakes – wouldn’t exactly make for great backyard BBQ fare.”

So let’s raise a beer – 93 cents per bottle this year in the Rabobank BBQ Index – and thank the troops who sacrificed so we could celebrate.

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