Corn maze

The maze currently on display at Rutland Farms.

TIFTON — University of Georgia Tifton campus students contributed to the design of Rutland Farms’ “The Wizard of Oz”-themed corn maze this year using GPS and precision agriculture technology.

The students are in George Vellidis’ UGA-Tifton precision agriculture class. Vellidis, a UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences professor, has been researching precision agriculture since 1995. His students use this technology each year to prepare them for future agricultural careers.

Vellidis’ class helped construct Rutland Farms’ previous corn maze design of former UGA football coach Mark Richt in 2015, which brought national attention to Rutland Farms.

“GPS is a fundamental technology in precision agriculture,” Vellidis said. “Without it, you couldn’t collect data and pinpoint the exact location from which the data is collected in the field. Creating the corn maze is a great opportunity for the students to learn how to use GPS to navigate to locations in a field.”

Ryan Rutland, a CAES alumnus, and his wife, Meredith Rutland, have created the corn maze every year since 2011. Meredith Rutland draws the design, while Ryan Rutland navigates and students direct his path.

“We take the image Meredith (Rutland) gives us and integrate it into our software,” said Jackson Fleet, an agriscience and environmental systems major. “Then the software relays the boundaries of the field and gives us real earth coordinates so we can help guide Ryan through the field with our receivers.”

The students were surprised at the ease with which they learned the GPS controls.

“The design was difficult to follow at first because of the complicated patterns,” said Dalton West, also an agriscience and environmental systems major. “The paths we were mowing were so close together that it seemed like there would be no corn left, so it was definitely a learning experience.”

“It was interesting and cool to see how it all works,” said agriscience and environmental systems major Ethan Cody.

Farmers may experience problems with GPS and other precision agriculture technologies, but Vellidis prepares his students for those situations.

“Cables could malfunction, we may lose a GPS signal or the GPS may not be communicating with the hand-held computers,” Vellidis said. “I want my students to be able to diagnose the problem and learn how to fix it. Equipment downtime frustrates farmers and costs them money. It’s important for our students to be familiar with how everything works.”

Vellidis’ students are proud of their accomplishments.

“It’s always neat to see these things (corn mazes) advertised on the side of the road, but to actually be a part of something like this is very educational,” said Will Henry, an agriscience and environmental systems major.

The maze is open through Nov. 2, and tickets can be purchased at the farm from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rutland Farms is located at 5641 Union Road, Tifton, GA 31794.

Julie Jernigan is an intern at UGA-Tifton.

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