That’s a-maze-ing! How the latest farm tech planted the Hemsby maize maze

The completed maize maze at Hemsby. Picture: Mike Page.

The completed maize maze at Hemsby. Picture: Mike Page. - Credit: Mike Page.

Getting lost in a leafy labyrinth might be a fun way to spend a summer afternoon – but do you know how a maize maze is made?

Seeds being precision-planted for the maize maze at Hemsby. Picture: Carl Pitelen.

Seeds being precision-planted for the maize maze at Hemsby. Picture: Carl Pitelen. - Credit: Carl Pitelen

In the past, it would have been a toilsome process to map out the design on a planted field before hoeing or mowing the unwanted plants from the pathways.

But now a Norfolk farm-based fun park believes it has become the first to use precision technology to plant seeds directly into the intricate pattern required – illustrating the efficiency and accuracy of modern agricultural equipment.

The Mega Maze at Hirsty's Family Fun Park at Hemsby near Great Yarmouth was created using an eight-row seed drill, attached to a satellite-guided John Deere tractor. The digital design was fed into the GPS guidance system, which then used 'section control' to tell each drill when to turn on or off as they passed across boundary lines – building up the image like a dot-matrix printer.

Farmer Richard Hirst, whose family has been running an annual maize maze since 2007, said: 'We believe it is the first one to use this technology.

Carl Pitelen at Ben Burgess in Norwich, with a GreenStar-equipped John Deere tractor.

Carl Pitelen at Ben Burgess in Norwich, with a GreenStar-equipped John Deere tractor. - Credit: Chris Hill


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'Ten years ago the technology was not there, but it is now. It just struck me that firstly it would make my life easier, but it is also a very good way of showing off some of the advanced technology that we have in farming.

'There is a maize maze association, which I am a member of, and there was a lot of doubt that this could work. But now they have seen this picture, more of them might be wanting to do it.

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'Traditionally it was done on graph paper. You would have drawn the maze out in a grid pattern and used that to measure out the paths. It was a long and involved process.

'The first year, we staked it out with 2,574 canes to mark the paths. The more complicated the pattern, the more canes we used. The idea is we hoe the plants out between the canes. We have tried to use a road-roller to mark the paths and then mow the path. It took four of us three days to do it.'

The layout for Hirsty's maize maze, designed by Mazescape. Picture: Mazescape.

The layout for Hirsty's maize maze, designed by Mazescape. Picture: Mazescape. - Credit: Mazescape

FARMING TECHNOLOGY

The technology and computing behind the maize maze was handled by Carl Pitelen, a precision agriculture specialist for Norwich- based John Deere dealer Ben Burgess.

He said to ensure a thick wall of maize, it was planted in two directions – each time to an accuracy of 2cm.

'Previously, they would drill the whole field and then go out with a handheld GPS and a map, taking days to map out the patterns,' he said.

'Richard said to me: 'Do you think there's a way of doing it automatically?' I like a challenge, so we had the layout designed by a company called Mazescape and we then imported this map into Gatekeeper desktop software and did some modifications to be able to send an export of the map to allow the John Deere's Greenstar precision system to follow the path.

'We did two or three dry runs using desktop simulators and in-field simulation by riding around on a grass field in a Gator (a utility buggy).

'We are very pleased with the end result. Actually we are more than pleased with it.

'The section control is designed to minimise overlap, and reduce seed usage and sprays. On a broad scale in traditional farming operations there are big cost savings to it, but we've manipulated that and used it on a very intricate two-hectare site. It proves how accurate it is.

'To do it with such intricacy of 'on-off, on-off' is asking a lot of the machinery. It is like playing a piano.

'It is always good to have public engagement so they can appreciate what this machinery does and what our industry is about. It is not all just about big tractors. There's more technology in our tractors than there is in some high-performance cars, or even racing cars.'

Hirsty's maize maze at Great Yarmouth Road, Hemsby, opened last weekend, and will be open every day until 6pm on September 3.

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