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DJI Beyond Limits: Leading a Drone Business as a Pilot and Mother

Over the past decade, DJI and the commercial drone industry have grown at a rapid pace. In creating products that show the extent of our innovation, we have also increased the diversity and number of people who use our products. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are sharing stories of female pilots around the world who have contributed to pushing the boundaries of innovation.

For the first interview of this series, we sat down with Yuhuan Li, a mother of two who became an agricultural drone pilot. The 40-year-old runs her own business in Xinjiang Province, using the DJI Agras T16 to spray pesticides and defoliant over thousands of acres every day.

Q: When did you become a drone pilot? Why did you choose to fly agricultural drones?

A: After giving birth to my second child, I began wondering what else I could do for the rest of my life. Opening a store or running a business would just be a way to make ends meet. As a farmer, I cannot live without the land; I needed to do something related to our land. A tractor is a viable option, but it is physically tiring to operate alone. I once saw pilots in the field, flying drones with a controller. That was something I thought I could manage. So, I became a drone pilot at the age of 38.

Q: What are the benefits of using drones for farming? Can you share some tips for using agricultural drones?

A: Using drones to spray pesticides is more efficient than using tractors. First of all, tractors harm the cotton when passing through, while drones prevent the cotton from being crushed. At first, farmers had doubts about the reliability of drones. However, they witnessed the aircraft’s efficiency as well as the lack of damage done to the cotton. They acknowledged this was a reliable solution for plant protection. To better maximize the benefits of agricultural drones, I use drones for most of my work, such as spraying pesticides and defoliants. I still use the tractor for certain things, such as sowing seeds.

Q: What are the best practices for using agricultural drones?

A: The first valuable thing I learned: learn to use your drone fully. A  friend of mine is also a drone pilot. She doesn’t operate her drone regularly, making it difficult for her to take advantage of its potential. What you spray also matters. No matter what tools you use, it is essential to use an appropriate pesticide. Although I don’t have the highest output, drones have let me achieve the best results in my community. This is why other farmers trust me and ask about my experience with drones. Since 2019, many farmers in my community became aware of the benefits of drones and preferred to use it for spraying.

Q: What has your experience been as a woman in the drone industry?

A: I care less about what others say and more about doing a good job. Operating a drone requires skill rather than brute strength. As long as you master the skills, anyone can do it, including women. There may be doubt, but there are a lot of people who are curious to see if women can do it too. Once you work it out, respect will follow. I have several female friends operating agricultural drones now. Each of us drives a truck, carrying a DJI Agras T16 that can spray thousands of acres each day. Last fall, we used more drones to spray defoliant for the farmers, and they recognized and appreciated the benefits of drones. It was tiring but incredibly fulfilling. When I leave early in the morning, the kids are still asleep. When I come home late at night, they are sleeping already. But I believe that all my efforts are building us a brighter future.

Q: What would you like to tell other women who are trying to become drone pilots? 

A: As long as you are passionate, you can do it. Women should be strong and independent. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and just go for it!

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