Sky is the limit

Women are the key to ag-tech re­ally tak­ing off

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - AN­DREA DAVY An­[email protected]­ral­

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.fion­ 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.

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