Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 6, Issue 1 - May, 2013

Editor: Lee Stivers

Conventional Corn Grain Production vs. Corn Maze Production: Implications for Enterprise Budgeting

Schilling, B., Specialist In Agricultural Policy, Rutgers University
Bamka, W., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University
Komar, S., Agricultural Agent, Rutgers University
Sullivan, K., Senior Research Analyst, Rutgers University

ABSTRACT

Budgeting for the development and operation of a corn maze is an important step in evaluating its economic feasibility.  This paper examines the financial implications of yield differences observed across two experimental one-acre plots, one planted in conventional field corn and one managed as a corn maze.  These pilot data are presented in the context of the number of visitors needed to recover production, design, and operating costs of a hypothetical 5-acre corn maze.  In our example, the number of maze visitors needed to break-even is underestimated by roughly 9 percent if revenue associated with lost yield is not considered.


Introduction

The business of making farms travel destinations for educational and recreational purposes, commonly called agritourism, is an important type of alternative farm enterprise development in the U.S.  It is an especially popular strategy employed by farms operating in proximity to urban areas in an effort to expand or diversify farm revenue, educate the non-farm public about agriculture, or expand traffic to existing farm retail outlets.  This is well evidenced in New Jersey, the most densely populated and urbanized state in the nation.  An estimated 29 million people with personal income of $750 billion live within 100 miles of the central part of the state, an area encompassing New York City and Philadelphia.  Schilling, Sullivan & Komar (2012) reported that 21 percent of New Jersey farms engage in some form of agritourism, earning more than $57 million in income.  Common agritourism activities reported by New Jersey farmers include on-farm direct marketing (e.g., farm stands, pick your own), educational tours, farm accommodations, passive or active farm-based outdoor recreation, and various forms of farm entertainment.  Among the popular types of farm entertainment is the corn maze.

Mazes are especially popular among traditional grain producers due, in part, to the limited equipment purchases required and positive community acceptance.  At the same time, for many traditional production/wholesale-oriented farms, offering an agritourism activity such as a corn maze represents a new business model, the economics of which are often not well understood.  Farmers have access to crop budgets (e.g., field corn) to guide production decisions.  However, limited resources have been developed to assist farmers with evaluating the economics of agritourism ventures.  Budgeting for the development and operation of a corn maze is an important step in evaluating its economic feasibility and managing financial risk. For example, it will allow a farmer to determine how many visitors will be required to cover development and operation costs or achieve a desired level of profit. 

One aspect of corn maze budgeting, and the focus of this study, is quantifying  the financial implications of production differences between growing corn for a maze versus producing a conventional grain crop.  This paper discusses plant physiology and yield differences observed across two experimental one-acre plots, one planted in conventional field corn and one planted and managed as a corn maze.  Enterprise budgeting implications and additional concerns are discussed.

 

Methods

Field research was conducted in 2012 at Rutgers University's Snyder Research and Extension Farm in Pittstown, New Jersey.  Two one-acre plots were established.  The first plot was planted on May 18, 2012 as conventional field corn FS Growmark 6241 BT, following Rutgers Cooperative Extension  production recommendations (Justin, 1994; Heckman, 2004).  Fertilizer application consisted of 20 lbs of N-P-K at planting  as a starter  fertilizer and an additional 130 lbs/A Nitrogen  applied as a sidedress. The planting population was 30,000 seeds per acre in 30 inch rows. A pre-emergent herbicide application was made immediately after planting. 

A survey of existing corn maze operators was conducted to determine typical production practices.  These practices were incorporated into the study to evaluate a corn maze system. The corn maze was planted 30 days later, on June 18, 2012, to address fire suppression concerns and increase the standability of plants during the maze season (i.e., the weeks leading up to Halloween) (Sciarappa & Heckman 2004).  The corn maze plot was cross planted in a grid pattern, using the same corn variety, at a density of 40,000 plants per acre.  The increased plant density  aimed to minimize visitors' line of sight within the maze and reduce ability to move outside of paths.  This higher plant density increased the seeding cost of the maze by $30.21.[1]    Although similar fertilizer rates were applied in both treatments, all of the fertilizer was applied pre plant in the maze treatment due to the cross hatch planting pattern, which prevented a later sidedress fertilizer application.   

The development of a corn maze necessitates consideration of additional production costs that are above and beyond those incurred to produce field corn.  In this study, the additional labor needed to develop the maze was quantified by timing each step in the maze development process.  These include the costs of designing, cutting and maintaining the maze through the agritourism season.  The corn maze required 4 labor hours for initial path design and cutting.  The maze was cut using a research forage harvester (Carter Forage Chopper).  Following a pattern designed on graph paper, 1006 linear feet of paths, 6 feet wide, were cut into the plot on August 20, 2012. An additional 0.5 hours were spent mowing the paths on each of three days throughout the growing period and 3 hours were required to groom overhanging vegetation in the days immediately prior to the opening of the maze to the public.  Beyond the planting time, which was roughly equivalent for both plots, a total of 8.5 hours were spent developing and maintaining the maze.  Assuming a wage of $7.25 per hour (the New Jersey minimum wage), this equates to $61.63 in additional labor costs, when compared to the one acre of traditional field corn.[2]  The maze was open to the public on August 29, 2012 as an added attraction at the Rutgers University Snyder Farm's annual open house and Great Tomato Tasting event.  The maze was open to visitors during this event to simulate typical traffic wear and to assess if customer flow had any impact on the corn condition.

Total chlorophyll was evaluated with the use of a Minolta SPAD meter throughout the growing season (on August 20, September 6, September 12, and October 1) to quantify  the relative “greenness” of corn in both plots.  Measurements were taken at the edge of corn maze paths,  within the corn in the interior of the maze, and in the conventional corn production planting.  The relative greenness is of particular concern with regard to assessing fire hazard potential. It was assumed that greener corn represented a reduced fire hazard due to a higher moisture content within the plant tissue. Corn planted for traditional grain production is typically drying down during the peak time period for corn maze operation.  To help alleviate this major safety concern, maze operators routinely plant corn at a later date to ensure dry down occurs outside of the time frame of maze operation.  Greener corn also serves to reduce the ability of patrons to navigate the maze by looking through the rows of corn, thus enhancing the maze experience.  Both corn plantings were evaluated weekly for insect pests, and relative crop health. Prior to harvest, a random sample of ears was taken from both plantings to evaluate and compare physiological properties and to quantify  ear damage from insect pests. Three subplots from each planting were hand harvested on November 21, 2012 and run through a Hage small plot research combine.  Harvest plots consisted of 1/1000th of an acre (17.5 linear feet per row).  Grain moisture was determined and  yields were calculated based on 15.5% moisture content.

 

Results

Physiological differences were evident between corn in the maze and conventional grain plantings.  Due to the later planting, corn in the maze plot had a higher chlorophyll content, which resulted in  greener  color during the months of September and October.  The greener corn is indicative of a younger plant and is important for maze durability and fire safety.  One-way ANOVA tests confirm that mean chlorophyll levels are not equal across sampling locations (Table 1).  Tukey's multiple comparisons tests of differences show generally higher chlorophyll levels in corn plants within the maze plot at each time point, with the exception of the initial August 20thmeasurements.

 

 

Date

 

Corn maze, edge

 

Corn maze, interior

 

Conventional

August 20a

59.77 (A)

56.33 (B)

58.60 (A)

September 6b

59.99 (A)

59.24 (A)

52.59 (B)

September 12b

58.57 (A)

60.78 (A)

51.69 (B)

October 1b

56.30 (A)

56.85 (A)

22.59 (B)

For each date, means with different letters (i.e., A, B) are different at α= .05 at p < 0.05, based on Tukey's multiple comparison test.

an=100 per treatment; b n=25 per treatment

Table 1. Mean Chlorophyll Measurements from Conventional Corn Production

and Corn Maze Plots. 

 

At harvest, the number of rows of grain per ear was similar for both treatments; however, the mean number of kernels per row was lower on ears sampled at both interior and edge locations in the corn maze, relative to ears sampled in the conventional production plot (Table 2).  This suggests that the later  planting date had an impact on ear growth and development within the maze.  Visual observation suggested increased ear damage from Lepidopterous pests (e.g., corn ear worm) in the corn maze.  This is not surprising since it is well known that late planted corn is more likely to be impacted by pests such as corn borer and corn earworm. The presence of insect pests potentially contributed to poorer yield as compared to the conventional corn production plot. 

 

 

Measure

 

Corn maze, edge

 

Corn maze, interior

 

Conventional

No. of Rows (mean)a

15.4 (A)

14.9 (A)

15.2 (A)

Kernels/Row (mean)a

36.8 (B)

34.8 (B)

44.0 (A)

For each measure, means with different letters (i.e., A, B) are different at α= .05 at p < 0.05, based on Tukey's multiple comparison test.

an=10 per treatment.

Table 2. Ear Development in Conventional Corn Production and

Corn Maze Plots.

 

Corn yield from the maze was approximately 31 percent (61.8 bushels) less than the conventional plot (Table 3).[3]  The conventional production plot produced 197.4 bushels, whereas yield from the corn maze totaled only 135.6 bushels (p=0.0236). Paths in the corn maze comprised roughly 6,036 square feet.  As a result of this reduced harvested acreage, an a priori yield reduction of 27.4 bushels per acre, or 13.9 percent, can logically be expected.  The higher observed yield loss is attributable to poor crop development and increased insect pressure resulting from the late planting date.  Further, weather and other environmental factors were variable during critical crop development stages (e.g., tasseling, silking) due to the staggered planting times.  Plant damage was also observed in the corn maze during the period it was open to the public.

 

Measure

Conventional

Corn Maze

ta

Df

Yield, bu/A (mean)

197.4

(9.39)

135.6

(28.55)

-3.56*

4

Moisture (mean)

17.5%

(0.10)

27.4%

(1.85)

9.25**

4

a Unpaired, two-tailed t-tests with assumption of equal variance. Standard deviations are in parentheses below means.

* p<.05; ** p<.01

Table 3. Yield, Weight and Moisture Readings from Conventional Corn Production and Corn Maze Plots.

 

Discussion

The implications of this pilot research are contextualized through a budget for a hypothetical 5 acre commercial corn maze.  It is important to recognize that corn mazes vary in size, complexity, and planting practices.  Data presented in this paper were collected over one growing season and are not yet replicated.  Therefore, these data should be viewed as pilot data and not be generalized.

Based on adherence to Rutgers Cooperative Extension corn production guidelines, it is assumed that the cost of growing 5 acres of field corn is $2,375 (Table 4).  Assuming that the increased cost of seed enumerated during our corn maze production trial rises linearly with maze size, maze production costs are estimated at $2,526, $151 ($30.21 per acre * 5 acres) higher than conventional corn production. Some operators may opt to hire a professional design company to create a maze, depending on the desired size and sophistication of the design or image being incorporated.  The budget reflects a professional design charge of $1,500.  Additional labor associated with mowing and path maintenance are also assumed to rise linearly, increasing wages by $308 ($61.63 per acre * 5 acres).  Total design and maintenance costs are therefore $1,808.

A prospective corn maze operator also needs to consider the costs of operating a corn maze, including farm improvements needed to accommodate visitors (e.g., parking, structures for ticket or product sales), additional insurance, marketing and promotion, and additional staffing.  The following cost parameters for a corn maze open three days per week for six weeks are reflected in Table 4.  An estimated $5,003 in wages for additional hourly labor is predicated on common hours of operation maintained by New Jersey operators.[4]  The budget also reflects $3,600 for 30 hours per week of manager-level assistance (at $20/hour).  While highly variable, we assume $9,000 is spent on marketing and promotion specific to the corn maze.  Additional expenditures include $630 for portable restroom facilities, a $1,500 premium for expanded insurance, $480 for maze signage, $600 for staff apparel, and $200 for entrance wristbands.  The budget assumes no infrastructure improvements (e.g., parking areas or structures) are needed.  In sum, budgeted expenses for maze operation total $21,013.

As shown in Table 4, the total costs of growing, designing and operating a hypothetical 5-acre corn maze are $22,972.  If the operator charges a $7.50 maze entrance fee, 3,063 visitors are needed to break even on the enterprise.  However, a more complete financial analysis should include the opportunity cost of foregone crop yield resulting from the altered production practices, crop damage, and insect pressure. A yield loss of 61.8 bushels was measured in the corn maze trial plot relative to the control plot (conventional production).  At a market price of $7.00/bushel, this represents foregone revenue of $434/acre due to crop loss.  Extrapolating this loss to our hypothetical 5-acre maze, yield-related revenue losses total $2,163.  To compensate for this revenue differential, an additional 289 visitors would need to patronize the maze.

 

 

 

Conventional

 

Corn Maze

 

Differential

Visitors Required to Break-Even1

Expenses

 

 

 

 

Production

$2,375

$2,526

$151

20

Design & Maintenance

N/A

$1,808

$1,808

241

Operations

N/A

$21,013

$21,013

2,802

Total

$2,375

$25,347

$22,972

3,063

 

 

 

 

 

Yield and Revenue

 

 

 

 

Yield (bu/A)

197.4

135.6

(61.8)

 

Revenue

$6,909

$4,746

($2,163)

289

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total

3,352

1 Assumes a maze entrance fee of $7.50 per visitor.

Table 4. Visitors Required to Compensate for Cost and Yield Differentials between 5 acres of Conventional Corn Production and a Corn Maze.

 

Conclusion

As agritourism becomes more prevalent on American farms, farmers will require resources to assist with financial analysis of different farm-based recreational and educational enterprises.  This paper provides preliminary field data from two one-acre experimental corn plots, one  planted in accordance with Extension guidelines for conventional field corn production and one managed as a corn maze. Labor and seeding costs were recorded to demonstrate differentials in production costs between the two plots.  A novel contribution of this research lies in the evaluation of yield differences between the two production systems.  Failure to account for the lost crop revenue resulting from the yield differential between conventional field production and the construction of a corn maze results in an inaccurate assessment of the financial tradeoffs between the two enterprises.  In the example developed in this paper, the estimated break-even visitation level for a corn maze operation is underestimated by roughly 9 percent if revenue associated with lost yield is not considered.  These results demonstrate the importance of developing enterprise budgeting resources to assist the growing number of producers considering the addition of agritourism activities on their farms.

 

References

Justin, J. (1994). NJ Field Crop Recommendations.  Rutgers Cooperative Extension, New Brunswick, NJ.

Heckman, J. (2004). Plant Nutrient Recommendations for Field Corn. Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS 174.

Sciarappa, W. & Heckman, (J. 2004). Growing an “A-maize-ing” Corn Maze.  Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS510.

Schilling, B., Sullivan, K., Komar, S. & Bamka, W. (2013). Budgeting for a corn maze. Rutgers Cooperative Extension bulletin.

Schilling, B., Sullivan, K. & Komar, S.  2012.  Examining the economic benefits of agritourism: The case of New Jersey.  Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development 3(1):199-214.


[1]The cost (or depreciation) of the mower and nominal fuel expenses were not tabulated.

[2]  Labor costs tabulated in the pilot plot are conservative.  Paths were mowed three times subsequent to their initial establishment.  Interviews with commercial corn maze operators suggest that path mowing is generally required weekly, depending upon plant growth.  During a 10 week growing period, paths are commonly  mowed as much 6-10 times.  Management time and time spent designing the maze on graph paper were also not included in the labor analysis.

[3]Yield calculations were corrected to 15.5% moisture content and 56 pounds per bushel.

[4]A common operating schedule is Friday evening, Saturday (afternoon and evening) and Sunday afternoon.  We assume 5 additional hourly employees are required to open, operate, and close the corn maze.  Each works at an hourly rate of $7.25 for 23 hours weekly (6, 11, and 6 hours, respectively on Friday, Saturday and Sunday).