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Cooperative Extension Publication E343  |  May 2013

Budgeting for a Corn Maze

Cooperative Extension Publication E343  |  May 2013

  • Brian Schilling, Extension Specialist in Agricultural Policy
  • William Bamka, Agricultural Agent, Burlington County
  • Stephen Komar, Agricultural Agent, Sussex County
  • Kevin Sullivan, Senior Research Analyst

Entrance to a corn maze. A growing number of farmers are developing agritourism enterprises to increase farm income, diversify their businesses, and increase their customer bases. Additional benefits can include building positive community relations and raising educational awareness of agriculture. A corn maze is a popular component of many agritourism enterprises; either as a stand-alone activity or in combination with other on-farm attractions (e.g., hay rides, petting zoos, and picnic areas). A corn maze can also be an effective tool to attract customers to retail farm markets.

Corn mazes vary in complexity, size, and purpose. The development of a corn maze, like any farm business venture, requires proper planning. Important questions to consider include: How many visitors can my farm accommodate? Is my parking adequate? How will I ensure the safety of farm visitors? Do I need to hire additional employees to staff a maze? Are there regulatory requirements that I need to address? How will I market my maze? Naturally, the development of a new corn maze also raises financial questions, including: How much will it cost to develop a corn maze and how many visitors do I need to make my maze profitable?

Careful budgeting for the establishment and operation of a corn maze is an important component in determining its economic feasibility and managing farm financial risk. This fact sheet provides a budget template summarizing common expenses associated with designing, establishing, and operating a corn maze. Although a sample budget for a hypothetical five-acre corn maze is constructed, it is important to note that there is no "typical" corn maze. Costs will differ from farm to farm. To maximize the effectiveness of this planning tool, producers should carefully develop their own budget assumptions. Farm-specific costs can be calculated for each budget category by completing the worksheets included in each of the categories using information specific to your farm.

Corn Maze Budget Categories

Corn Production

The cost of producing corn based on Extension recommendations designed for optimum grain yield vary, but typically range from $450 to $500 per acre. This reflects regular production expenses, including seeds, fertilizer, fuel, harvesting, management, and land charges. However, in many instances, producers adapt their production practices to facilitate the establishment of a maze. For example, to ensure corn stalks remain green during the maze operation season, corn maze operators often delay corn planting, which may reduce grain yields. They may also select varieties based on specific characteristics related to maze operation such as standability, maturity, and height rather than yield. Corn maze operators commonly establish higher plant populations or alter planting patterns (i.e., cross planting in a grid pattern), resulting in higher per-acre seeding costs. Additional production considerations may include altered weed management practices (i.e., PRE applications rather than POST applications of herbicides), inability to side-dress fertilizers, and yield loss due to late season pest damage. These variations in production practices can impact input costs when compared to conventional practices.

Cost of production budgets are available for many crops through land grant universities1. These tools provide useful guidance to producers, but should be amended to reflect departures from conventional growing recommendations needed to establish a maze.

Total cost of production, corn = (number of acres planted) x (production costs/acre)

________ (acres) x ________ (production costs/acre) = ________ Est. Total Cost of Corn Production

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'a')

Design Costs

Corn maze operators may design their own mazes, or hire outside firms to design and cut their maze. Firms in the northeastern states can charge from $1,500 to $1,900 for a five-acre maze of average complexity. This cost includes design creation, and cutting the initial design into the corn field. A producer may elect to design and cut the maze (i.e. using a handheld GPS, grid paper, etc.). A producer electing to cut a maze himself to reduce establishment costs needs to consider the value of his (or an employee's) time, and other directly related costs such as equipment and fuel.

________ Est. Cost of Maze Design (professionally contracted)

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'b')

OR, if maze is designed and cut by the operator

________ Est. Cost of Maze Design (operator labor and fuel expense) =

________(# hours) x ________(avg. wage rate) = ________ Est. Labor Cost of Design

+ ________(# gallons of fuel) x ________($/gallon of fuel) = ________Est. Fuel Cost of Design

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'b')

Path Maintenance

Corn maze paths should be mowed periodically to keep paths clear of weeds. The frequency will depend on several factors including weather, herbicide use, and weed pressure. The time needed to maintain a maze will vary based on the size, complexity and intricacy of the maze. For a five-acre corn maze, mowing will take approximately 3 hours per week for up to 10 weeks. The sample budget provided at the end of this fact sheet assumes that the producer owns an appropriate mower and therefore includes only hourly wages. Other costs such as maintenance and fuel should also be included for the most accurate budgeting of costs.

Cost of path maintenance, Labor = (# of hours mowing/week) x (# of weeks) x (avg. wage rate)

________(# hours/week) x ________(# of weeks) x ________(avg. wage rate)

= ________ Est. Labor Cost of Path Maintenance

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'c')

Cost of path maintenance, Fuel = (# gallons of fuel per cutting) x (# cuttings) x (avg. fuel cost/gallon)

________(# gallons/cutting) x ________(# of cuttings) x ________($/gallon of fuel)

= ________ Est. Fuel Cost of Path Maintenance

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'd')

Costs - Maze Operation

Signage

On-farm signage provides parking or directional information needed to help move customers safely and efficiently through your farm. Corn mazes often have signs with clues on how to escape the maze or interesting agricultural facts. Signs are also an effective marketing tool to promote other aspects of the farm operation. A maze operator can create durable signs with a computer, printer, and laminator. If an employee does the work, those labor hours should also be included in costs. Other sources for signage include internet-based companies and local printers. The sample budget assumes the self-production of signs at a cost of $12 each. If you wish to use roadside signs to direct customers to your farm and corn maze, first check with state or local authorities that may have jurisdiction over roadside signage and review any applicable right-to-farm provisions2. The costs of roadside signs vary greatly depending on the size and quality of the sign.

Total cost of signs = (number of signs) x (cost per sign)

________ (# of signs) x ________ (cost per sign) = ________ Est. Total Cost of Signs

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'f')

Apparel for Employees

To facilitate farm branding and identification of employees, it is suggested that farm staff wear clothing that includes a farm logo or corn-maze logo. The cost of 20 printed t-shirts and 10 printed sweatshirts can range from $400 to $700.

Total cost of apparel = (number of apparel items) x (cost per unit of apparel)

________ (# of apparel items) x ________ (cost per unit of apparel)

= ________ Est. Total Cost of Apparel

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'g')

Promotion and Advertising

Effective promotion and advertising are paramount to the success of a corn maze. These costs are highly variable. A broad rule of thumb suggests that promotion and advertising comprise 10% to 30% of total operating costs. Promotion costs and strategies will also vary over time, especially as the use of information technology and social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) to reach customers continues to grow3. An operator of a new corn maze needs to generate awareness within target markets (achieve market penetration) whereas an established operation may seek to keep existing customers or differentiate itself from new competitors. Newspaper ads, promotional literature, websites, newsletters, radio, billboards, and social media sites can all be effective tools. Be strategic by choosing advertising media that target the customer base most likely to visit your corn maze. Consider also whether you have the time and expertise to be an effective marketer, or whether it is more cost effective to hire an outside professional. A five-acre corn maze might spend between $5,000 and $10,000 (or more) on promotion and advertising per season. Our sample budget assumes three separate promotional advertisements are purchased at $3,000 each.

   ________ (Cost of promotion/advertisement 1) Description:

+ ________ (Cost of promotion/advertisement 2) Description:

+ ________ (Cost of promotion/advertisement 3) Description:

+ ________ (Cost of promotion/advertisement 4) Description:

+ ________ (Cost of promotion/advertisement 5) Description:

= ________ Est. Promotion & Advertising Costs

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'h')

Wristbands/Tickets

To ensure patrons have paid, operators generally use hand stamps, tickets, or wristbands. Wristbands are a good method, especially if you have more than one agritourism attraction (e.g., hayride, pumpkin picking, etc.) and the operation is structured as "pay one price." Vary wristband colors on different days of the week. Wristbands can be bought in bulk for as little as $.02 per band.

Total cost of wristbands = (number of units) x (cost per unit)

________ (# of wristbands/tickets) x ________ (cost per unit)

= ________ Est. Total Cost of Wristbands/Tickets

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'i')

Parking Area Improvements

Customer parking should be safe, convenient, and adequate for the number of visitors expected at the farm. It is important to note that the construction or improvement of parking areas may be subject to local standards or may need to meet certain requirements in order to be eligible for right-to-farm protections. Generally, parking areas must be easy to navigate and provide for safe traffic circulation. They should be kept free of slip, trip, and fall hazards as well as combustible materials (e.g., avoid having customers park in areas where crop residues may be a fire hazard). Directional signs guiding customers to the entrance of the maze should be posted in the parking lot. If a maze operates after dark, adequate lighting should be provided to illuminate the parking area. A flat open field can be used for overflow parking (e.g., a close-mowed hay field). In addition to mowing, operators may opt to make additional improvements to parking areas (e.g., grading, fencing, cones, barriers, hay, stones, lighting, etc.). Consider both labor and materials costs required to create an adequate parking area. In our sample budget we assume no improvements are needed.

________ Est. Cost of Parking Area

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'j')

Public Restrooms

Temporary restrooms can be rented on a long-term basis for approximately $3.50 per day with a minimum of a two-month lease. The number of restrooms provided depends on the maximum number of patrons you'll host at a given time. For example, expect to provide at least two or three public restrooms for a five-acre corn maze. Check local municipal regulations on requirements regarding portable restroom use. Hand-sanitizing facilities may be required as well.

Total cost of restrooms = (number of rented restrooms) x (# of days)

________ (# of restrooms) x ________ (cost per restroom/day) x ________ (of days)

= ________ Est. Total Cost of Restrooms

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'k')

Liability Insurance

Prior to developing a corn maze, consult with your insurance agent for appropriate coverage levels and rates for your operation. A corn maze should have a risk management plan which includes, at minimum, safety inspections and adequate insurance. Our budget assumes an additional policy cost of $1,500; however, your insurance costs will depend on your farm's unique circumstances.

________ Est. Cost of Additional Insurance

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'l')

Infrastructure Improvements

Temporary or permanent infrastructure may be required for the operation of a corn maze. Structures or improvements may include tents, pole barns, maze overlook structures, ticket booths, lighting, parking barriers, or picnic tables to better accommodate visitors. Some building improvements are considered capital investments and can be depreciated over time. In the sample budget provided, we assume no additional structures are needed.

   ________ (Cost of Improvement 1)

+ ________ (Cost of Improvement 2)

+ ________ (Cost of Improvement 3)

+ ________ (Cost of Improvement 4)

+ ________ (Cost of Improvement 5)

= ________ Est. Improvement Costs

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'm')

Land Charges

In our sample budget, land charges are factored into the cost of producing corn on the farm. Therefore, it would be unnecessary to charge the operation again for the land, especially if the land has been used in corn production and the corn is sold. On the other hand, if someone were to purchase or rent land for the sole purpose of starting a corn maze, land costs need to be budgeted.

________ Est. Cost of Land

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'n')

Hired Labor

Many corn maze operators employ friends, family, neighbors and local students on a seasonal basis to staff corn mazes and ancillary functions. The sample budget includes five employees and a manager. The budget assumes two employees are needed to direct traffic and parking, one employee is needed for ticket sales, and two employees are needed in the maze itself. The sample budget reflects a wage rate of $8 per hour for employees and $20 per hour for a manager, inclusive of applicable payroll taxes.

The sample budget assumes a six week corn maze season, with the maze open to the public during three days per week. Employees will need to work prior to, during, and after the maze's hours of operation. The budget assumptions are as follows. Employees are requires to work Friday evenings (six hours), Saturday afternoon and evening (eleven hours), and Sunday afternoon (six hours). The labor budget therefore reflects five employees working 23 hours per week for six weeks (690 hours total). Manager hours include 30 hours per week for six weeks (180 hours total).

Cost of seasonal labor (non-managers) = (# of hours/week) x (# of weeks) x (avg. wage rate)

________ (# hours/week) x ________ (# of weeks) x ________ (avg. wage rate)

= ________ Est. Labor Cost, Non-Managers

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'o')

Cost of seasonal labor (managers) = (# of hours/week) x (# of weeks) x (avg. wage rate)

________ (# hours/week) x ________ (# of weeks) x ________ (avg. wage rate)

= ________ Est. Labor Cost, Managers

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'p')

Corn Maze Receipts

Choosing a maze admissions price requires consideration of a number of factors, including the consumer demand for a corn maze in your area, local competition, and the amount of profit you wish to generate. Consider the prices charged by other corn mazes in the region, but also consider what other corn maze operations offer. Some farmers offer additional agritourism products all for one price. For example, a nearby farmer may charge $12 as the fee to enter the corn maze, take a hayride, and pick a pumpkin. If you offer only a corn maze, you'll want to price accordingly.

The worksheet allows for analysis of the impact of different price points and customer volume assumptions on the total net returns from the corn maze. Consider also any additional revenue you anticipate will be earned from the corn maze (e.g., will you charge a parking fee?). In the sample budget provided, the corn maze operator charges $7.50 per person and has 7,200 paying customers during the season, which generates $54,000 in total receipts.

Total corn maze admission fees = (number of expected visitors) x (admission fee per person)

________ (# of visitors) x ________ (fee per visitor) x ________ (of days)

= ________ Est. Total Admission Fees

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 's')

Corn Revenues

In addition to corn maze receipts, corn maze operators can harvest and sell the corn after the maze closes. Corn maze operators report a yield reduction of approximately 20% from a corn maze (i.e., due to lost planting area, crop damage, late harvesting, etc). Our sample budget assumes that 100 bushels of corn per acre are harvested and sold for $5 per bushel.

Total revenue from sale of corn = (number of bushels) x (price per corn)

________ (# of bushels) x ________ (price per bushel) x ________ (of days)

= ________ Est. Total Revenue from Corn

(Enter value into Budget Worksheet Cell 'w')

1See for example, Rutgers University crop budgets at aesop.rutgers.edu/~farmmgmt/index.html or Penn State University budgets at extension.psu.edu/agronomy-guide/cm/sec12.

2Some states have tourist-oriented directional signs (TODS) programs through which eligible farms may purchase signs for placement on highways.

3Be mindful of the importance of word of mouth (person-to-person or through social media) to the success of your agritourism business. Ensuring that customers have positive experiences that they share with friends and family generates free advertisement. Keep the farm visually appealing and safe, and maintain high customer service standards for all employees to enhance the visitor experience.

Additional Agritourism Resources from Rutgers Cooperative Extension

Additional resources on agritourism may be found on the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station publications website.

Sample Budget for a Hypothetical Five-Acre Corn Maze
COSTS
  Qty. Price/Unit Budget
Corn Production (Acres) 5 475.00 2,375
Maze Design and Cutting      
Design Costs and Initial Cutting 1 1,500 1,500
Cutting path Maintenance (labor hours) 30 10.00 300
Fuel (gallons) 30 4 120
Sub-total (design and cutting)     1,920
Maze Operation      
In-maze Signage (signs) 40 12.00 480
Apparel for employees 20 30.00 600
Marketing (promotional spots) 3 3,000 9,000
Wristbands 10,000 0.02 200
Parking Area Improvements     0
Public Restroom/Port-a-Potty 3 210 630
Liability Insurance 1 1,500 1,500
Infrastructure Improvements     0
Land Charges     0
Hired Labor – Regular (hours) 690 8.00 5,520
Hired Labor – Manager (hours) 180 20.00 3,600
Sub-total (Maze Operation)     21,530
       
TOTAL COSTS (growing, designing, operating)
Add (a + e + q)
25,825
       
REVENUES
 
No. of visitors
Admission Price
 
Maze Admission Fees 7,200 7.50 54,000
Other sources of maze-related revenue (e.g., parking, etc.)     0
REVENUE FROM MAZE OPERATION
Add (s + t)
54,000
 
NET RETURNS FROM CORN MAZE (revenue - costs)
Subtract (u – r)
28,175
 
REVENUE FROM CORN PRODUCTION
Bushels
Price/Bushel
Revenue
Corn Yield Receipts 500 5.00 2,500
       
TOTAL NET RETURNS (Maze & Corn Production)
Add (v + w)
30,675

  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station