Sky is the limit
Women are the key to ag-tech really taking off
THE secret to new ag technology taking off is to make it appealing to women.
That’s the opinion of rural photographer and drone instructor Fiona Lake, who is fully licensed to fly drones through the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Ms Lake said she feels like a “canary in the coal mine” at the moment.
“There is a gap in the uptake of technology in agriculture – and the answer is women,” she said.
“Maybe I have to jump up and down more to get this message out there.”
For the past few years Ms Lake has been hosting workshops throughout rural Australia.
While gender has nothing to do with an individual’s ability to fly drones, the instructor had noted interesting trends when teaching people – generally farmers – how to master the art.
“As a general rule, women view technology as tools,” she said.
“The first things a woman asks are ‘what use will this give me, how hard is it to use and how much will it cost?’ – so all very practical.
“Whereas men generally ask ‘how high will it go, how far will it go and how fast will it go?’”
Ms Lake acknowledged there would be plenty of exceptions to this notion but she had witnessed the trend first-hand.
“I had a really interesting experience with this in Charleville,” she said.
“I ran a workshop for AgForce a year or two ago and a fella came up to me and asked those three questions, so I told him he had just asked the first three questions that nearly every man asks.
“And then another man came up and asked the same questions! So we both started laughing.”
At one of her recent workshops, held last month in Townsville, half of the participants who came along were women.
“It was really rare. Most people wouldn’t realise that you normally get about one woman for every 20 blokes at these sorts of training events,” she said.
“Most ag-tech is made by men, it’s designed by men, it’s sold for men to use.
“But it’s women often making the finance and purchasing decisions. No wonder there is a big gap in the take-up of ag-tech. To me it’s a no-brainer.
“It’s not about women being better, it’s about women being different.
“Women don’t care if it makes noises and lights up or how fast it can go. They want to know if it will make them money, if it will save them time and if it will make their property safer.”
In her workshops, Ms Lake said she tried to sort fact from fiction around drones.
The demand for the technology has seen a wide variety of products on the market, starting with models weighing 100 grams and costing $200, up to $2500 quadcopters that can shoot quality photos, complete infrastructure inspections and conduct sophisticated mapping.
“I have a blog post where I run through all the models,” she said.
“Basically if you get a cheap one that doesn’t have GPS, they are really tough to fly.
“It’s like buying a model aircraft. Anyone who has flown model aircraft will tell you how hard they are to fly.
“If you spend a reasonable amount, roughly around $2000, you will get something that is quite easy to use.
“In saying that, there is one you can get for $1200 that will do a good little job.”
She said a drone’s simple uses were often what it was most effective on the land.
“It’s interesting when I talk to farmers as they say they have bought them for one purpose, but they have found they end up using them for other little jobs,” she said.
“The main things are safety related – like checking roofs, solar systems and towers.
“Then they are great for checking spot fires. You can pop one up early in the morning to see if a fire has flared up overnight.
“And I get a lot of people talking about using them to map vegetation.”
Ms Lake started flying when the DJI Phantom 4 hit the market.
She had been selling rural images since 1982 and saw drones as an extension of her imagery.
In the past, her aerial photography was conducted looking out the open door of mustering helicopters.
Ms Lake has spent her
whole life living and working on farms and cattle stations in northern and eastern Australia.
The best thing about taking snapshots from choppers, she said, was getting to sit beside the chopper pilot and hearing about their knowledge of the property.
But the autonomy drones offered was priceless.
“For me, there are so many photos I would have taken if I had a drone. I see my pictures as historical records and there are some things that have now vanished I would have captured if I’d had a drone,” she said.
Ms Lake joked that she never expected herself to become an ag-tech instructor.
She started teaching when she saw there was a need for better information.
Earlier this year she was one of 10 winners of the Global Women to Watch in UAS (drones) Award.
She was also a Queensland finalist in the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award.
Next year she is set to tackle more workshops, and is happy to hear from any industry or community groups that are keen to learn.
Visit www.fionalake.com.au for more information.
❝Women don’t care if it makes noises and lights up. They want to know if it will make them money, if it will save them time and if it will make their property safer.
— Fiona Lake
Drone instructor to Fiona Lake is see more pilots. keen
who is now teaching Fiona Lake is a photographer rural Australia. drone workshops across
TOP SHOT: Fiona Lake says aerial photos, like this one of Brunette Downs in the Northern Territory, are like historical records.
Burdekin irrigation area in North Queensland.
Cordillo Downs in South Australia.
Wallaman Falls in Far North Queensland.
Cordillo Downs in South Australia.
The Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland.