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Farmer's amazing maize maze is world-beater for one day only

A BRITISH turkey farmer will today unveil the world's largest maze built, or rather grown, from maize.

Sprawling over eight acres, with more than five miles to trek through, David Partridge's Great Leighs Great Maze, near Chelmsford, Essex, will hold the record for, sadly, only a day. An even more gargantuan puzzle carved into a crop of cornstalks opens in the American state of Utah tomorrow.

Mr Partridge, whose visitors will be equipped with helium balloons and sealed maze maps in case they run out of brainpower, was forced to open his maze eight days early to snatch the record briefly as the craze for maze-building spreads. Increasingly, farmers are finding maze-building is a serious money-making enterprise. The number of maize mazes worldwide has increased from five in 1997 to 24 this year.

Mr Partridge has taken two years to build his maze. By the end of this summer his walls will be 10ft high. At the end of the season the crop is fed to cattle.

Mr Partridge said: "The hardest part was finding the right kind of maize. Most maize will stand up well when packed into a flat field with no paths but once you build the paths it just flops over because there is not enough support. After a few trials I opted for a breed from Holland but that's all I'm prepared to say. It's a bit of a trade secret."

He is confident farmers can generate large sums from mazes. Mr Fisher has invested pounds 25,000 making the world's biggest maze and hopes to get up to 60,000 visitors a year.

He designed it himself, although many farmers use the world's undisputed maze expert, the Hampshire designer Andrew Fisher. One maze rival called him the "Calvin Klein of the maze world".

In 1997 Mr Fisher's Windmill Maze at Millets Farm Centre in Oxfordshire brought in paying visitors and increased turnover at the shops by 6 per cent. His design company will build 24 mazes in seven countries this year. It is big business. One mid-west US farmer who was given a year to pay off debts or go under solved generations of debt by building a maze - and took $250,000 in the first summer.

Mr Fisher said: "People love mazes and we love designing them. I want it to be as much a childhood memory as Halloween or `trick or treat'.

"Mazes are the antidote to the manicured formality of a stately home's lawns, and a family trip to the countryside maze is much more fun than walking down a road avoiding traffic and getting caught on barbed wire."