Should You Start a Corn Maze?

Fall is a great time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and, in most parts of the country, the beautiful fall colors nature gives us before the gray days of winter. It is the time for apple picking, pumpkin carving, hayrides and…CORN MAZES!

A corn maze is quite literally, a group of paths through a field of corn with a specified starting and completion point(s). Initially corn mazes resembled the maze puzzles we see in children’s activity books; geometric shapes with dead-ends, etc.. But not anymore! Today’s corn mazes range from simple shapes to intricate designs including sports team mascots, architectural replications, tractors, messages, and oh, so many more!

But why? Why go to the trouble? It’s a win-win situation, that’s why. The ‘win’ for the grower/producer is an increase in profits for the farm and the ‘win’ for the consumer is inexpensive fun, exercise and yes, intellectual challenge.

Some of the most established corn mazes can plan on between ten and fifty thousand visitors a season. And at $10 per head, that’s quite a bit of income. You might be thinking there aren’t even that many people in your community, so those figures seem distorted and unrealistic to you. Possibly. But even if you had a three acre corn maze that brought in three thousand visitors the first year at $10 per person, that’s $30 thousand of gross income. And that doesn’t include other activities and/or concessions can you offer. Compare that to the average gross income of traditionally growing and harvesting that same three acres. The average cost of growing a bushel of corn is $3. Price received for that same bushel of corn has been averaging $6 a bushel. At an average of 150 bushels per acre, that’s a gross income of $2700. Net income before harvesting cost is fifty percent of that or $1350.

Of course a corn maze is not all profit. But you know that. There will be expenses for creating the maze, operation of the maze and advertising. Some of these expenses include (and will be discussed in greater detail later on):

  • Cost of designing, planting and cutting the maze
  • Insurance premiums
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Fees and permits-both required and optional
  • Employee –payroll and training (using contract labor will eliminate the need for paying payroll taxes)
  • Software for bookkeeping or professional fees for the same
  • Legal fees and taxes
  • Cost of website-domain name and hosting/maintenance
  • Cost of ‘constructing’ a parking area

Creating a corn maze doesn’t have to be difficult, but does require planning, preparation and personality.

Planning. A corn maze doesn’t just happen. If you plan to use a portion of your crop land for a corn maze, you’ll need to plan your planting and harvesting to allow for re-planting in time for the ‘maze season’ (September and October). You’ll need to plan your design, your marketing/advertising strategy (no, they don’t come just because you build it) and your business plan-cost of development and maintenance and projected income. You also need to decide if your location is conducive for such an endeavor. Will the location of the maze be difficult to find? What are the population demographics for your community and those within a ten mile radius? Will the size of maze you plan to build and the expected costs involved be reasonable in comparison to the number of people you can potentially draw to the farm? How near or far is the closest corn maze to where yours would be located? What can you do to differentiate your maze from theirs? What can you do in cooperation with theirs to enhance yours? What will your draw or appeal be that the other(s) doesn’t have?  Do you have the ability for people to park safely at this location? Can school buses or larger vans get in and out? If not, can adaptation be made to make it so? Research shows you’ll need enough parking to handle two percent of your expected total visitors for the season at any one time. This should include room enough to park two or three school buses with ease.

Preparation includes planting the corn so that it’s the right height for ‘mazing’. Four to six feet tall is just adequate, but some go as high as ten feet tall depending on the variety of corn planted. Yes, some people do use dried stalks still standing in the field, but this is best reserved for the smallest of guests to your maze (preschoolers), as the challenge factor is greatly reduced by being able to see through the rows. Again, not a bad idea for the little ones. The University of Missouri Bradford Research Extension Center recommends planting double the normal population of corn per row when planted for maze purposes to reduce the temptation to ‘cheat’ (cut through the maze).

Designing the maze is best left to someone who knows what they’re doing unless you plan to have the simplest of patterns or have access to a graphic artist. Professional design usually runs between two and ten thousand dollars depending on its complexity. If you are tech-savvy and feel you can handle this yourself (or with help you have on hand) there are software programs and gps systems you can purchase for maze creation. There are also websites that can help you with designs for your maze. NOTE: One idea worth considering is to ask a farm supply store, feed store or other local business to sponsor your maze. Here’s how it works: The business would pay a percentage of the cost to design and build the maze in exchange for their logo or name being used as the design for the maze.  Additionally, marketing and advertising materials such as magnets, pins, etc. with the business’s name would be handed to visitors to the maze and their name would also be listed as a sponsor on all promotional materials and advertising.

Another important aspect of a successful maze is a plan for your operation of the business. Where will your money for start-up and first season operations come from (Remember the sponsorship idea)?  Other sources of start-up revenue might be available through your state’s department of agriculture’s small business grants or loans, SARE grants (www.sare.org) and, if you’re a female, there are multiple programs that give money to women pursuing agricultural ventures. Contact your local farm service agency, your state’s department of agriculture, the SBA (small business association) and other sources of funding you’ll be able to find in searching the internet.

Personality, believe it or not, is key to a successful corn maze. Having a warm and friendly personality; giving them a down-home country welcome to your farm will keep folks coming back. And their coming back is what makes it a business rather than a whim. Scheduling larger groups rather than just having them ‘show up’ is wise, as it allows you to be prepared in advance in regards to concessions and other materials. As you welcome visitors to the farm, briefly explain the reason for the maze’s design, give a brief history of the farm and/or interesting facts about corn. For families and groups of adults, you might even include a recipe for cornbread with a twist. You can find some you’re sure to like at http://allrecipes.com/Recipes/Bread/Cornbread/. In other words, remember to be the hostess with the mostess. And make sure your employees do the same.

Here’s the rest of the guide:

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