Net U.S. farm income for 2011 surpassed $100 billion for the first time, according to USDA data. Record or near-record prices for livestock and grains this year fueled a 28 percent increase in net farm income and gives farmers and ranchers a lot of optimism for the coming year.

Excellent profits for most agricultural enterprises have helped heal a lot of financial wounds for the nation’s aging farmers, more than 60 percent of whom are over age 55. Those profits, and some government incentives, are also luring a new generation of farmers back to the land.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hopes 100,000 new farmers will join the ranks in the next few years, and Congress has pushed proposals that would provide young farmers with improved access to USDA support and loan programs.