Home Again

America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers - Home Again

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Among her many tasks, Aimee Bissell is the driver of one farm's combines during harvest. (Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

Harvest is rolling, and Aimee Bissell has settled into her autumn routine. First thing in the morning, she climbs into a combine and heads to the hilly fields in southwest Iowa to cut corn. She works in tandem with her husband in the second combine while her father-in-law and employees shuttle grain carts and semis.

Her lunch is on-the-go in the combine cab. Breaks are rare, and she plugs into an audiobook to keep her active mind entertained. Around 4 p.m., Aimee's 17-year-old son arrives from school to take her place so she can go home to make supper. At 6:30 sharp, she serves a meal in the field from foam clamshell containers she has prepared -- assembly-line style -- in the kitchen. Then she drives back home, does laundry, cleans the house, begins her bookwork and helps her younger son with homework. Everybody is home around 10 p.m. and, "We go to bed and get ready to do the whole thing all over again," she says.

It's exhausting. But, it's part of the farm life she chose as both a full-time wife and mother, and a full-time farmer.

Funny thing is, Aimee wasn't supposed to be a farmer. At least that's what she thought growing up as a town girl in Corning, Iowa.

She was born a farm girl. But, when she was 3 years old, her father -- a fifth-generation farmer -- fell victim to the disaster that was the 1980s and moved his family to town. No way would Aimee find her way back to the farm. "I always said, 'I will never marry a farmer,'â??" she remembers.

But, love had other plans. "I married my second-grade boyfriend," Aimee says with a laugh. "He's been farming since he was 14 years old. It's all he ever wanted to do."

MEANT TO BE

That boy was Klint Bissell. He kept on farming, and Aimee eventually joined him. Today, they and their sons Braydon, 17, and Tucker, 13, farm 5,500 acres of corn and soybeans near Bedford, Iowa.

Driving the combine is just one of Aimee's roles in the operation. In the spring, she is in charge of the seed tender and starter fertilizer. In the winter, she plows headlong into bookwork and data analysis. That's where she shines. "I love numbers," she says. "I think they have a story to tell, and data analysis helps me pay my 'wages' on the farm."

Early on, when farming was not in the picture, Aimee pursued a career in medicine as a registered respiratory therapist. "I have a passion for helping people," she says. "When I was a little girl, my mother called me 'the ambulance chaser,' because every time I heard a siren, I wanted to follow it so I could help."

She chased caregiving studies to schools in Des Moines, California and Minnesota. Along the way, she became not only a respiratory therapist but also an instructor in pediatric life support. In 2001, she took a job at Montgomery County Memorial Hospital, in Red Oak, Iowa, where she found that her love of numbers could improve patient care.

"Aimee has great critical thinking. She can look at a patient's data and make decisions. She is always looking for solutions," her supervisor Cathi Brown says.

When she started in Red Oak, Aimee and Klint were married and living in a farmhouse near Bedford. That meant an hourlong commute each way and workdays that typically stretched to 12 hours. There wasn't much time for Klint and, later, the boys.

UNDERSTAND THE WORDS

Aimee is frank about the situation: "Klint and I were living separate lives. It wasn't working well, and we were having trouble communicating. I needed to learn how to speak his language, and we needed to learn how to raise our family together."

She sought help by enrolling in Annie's Project, a program designed to help farm women better understand their husbands' world. It includes basics in farm vocabulary and economics.

But, simple understanding took Aimee only so far. By 2013, she and Klint decided they needed a change. She sharply reduced her time at the hospital and started to work side by side with Klint on the farm. The issue then became, "How do I earn my living on the farm?" Aimee says. "I didn't know how I was going to fit into the operation. I felt like a square peg in a round hole."

She needn't have worried.

FIND A WAY

Today, Klint appreciates the fieldwork she does. But, he marvels at the order and innovation Aimee has brought to the farm's data. Like many farmers, Klint struggled for years to make sense of the digital piles of information he collected. Aimee has dug into those piles and found some gems. She is the farm's resident data analyst.

She tracks yield data to help make informed seed-buying and planting decisions. She plans and executes hybrid and variety trials. She runs the numbers to decide when it pays to pick corn wet or when it is better to let it dry in the field. And, her firm grip on grain storage inventories has improved the farm's marketing.

Aimee also looks for ways to improve workflow. For instance, she reorganized bulk seed storage so that when she fills seed tenders, she has to move boxes only once. "Being the spreadsheet geek that I am, I created a map that shows where each box is stacked. Now, we get the right seed boxes to the right farm at the right time."

That same spreadsheet mania also helps in the kitchen. Aimee can tell you 14 days in advance what the harvest crew will be having for supper.

By the way, Aimee didn't abandon her medical passion. Besides her twin full-time jobs on the farm and in the house, she also still works on an "as needed" basis for the hospital. But, she doesn't always have to make that long commute. Telemedicine technology lets her work from home sometimes. And, home just happens to be the farm.

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Jim Patrico