Central Illinois banker David Combs turned to the U.S. Department of Agriculture last summer for a government-guaranteed loan because a farmer wanted to consolidate debt at a better interest rate.

Mr. Combs, president of the $91 million-asset First National Bank in Taylorville, Ill., was rebuffed, however -- as were hundreds of other bankers nationwide. The government program that backs billions of dollars of farm loans per year had been tapped dry, and Mr. Combs missed out on the farmer's business.

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