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Drought-damaged corn is seen in a field near Nickerson, Neb., this month.

Nati Harnik/AP

Bank of Montreal said on Wednesday it was offering its U.S. and Canadian farmer customers financial drought relief to help them get through one of the worst droughts to hit North America in more than 50 years.

The bank said it is providing drought-hit farmers more access to capital, fee concessions, working lines of credit and in some cases loan deferrals.

"It comes down to a case-by-case issue and how the drought affected a particular customer," said Patrick O'Herlihy, a spokesman for BMO Harris Bank, the U.S. lending arm and the eighth-largest agriculture banker.

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Nearly two-thirds of the continental United States, the world's top food producer, is suffering from drought. Corn, soybean and hay output has been slashed, forcing many grain farmers to abandon crops in fields and doubling the cost of feed for livestock producers. Farmers in Ontario have also suffered from a dry summer and face similar financial stress.

The bank said the program differs from its traditional loan offerings, providing short-term solutions to get farmers through tough times.

"A farmer might be waiting for a crop insurance claim. We can give them a short-term working capital fund to help them with cash flow needs until that claim comes in," said Mr. O'Herlihy.

BMO is also offering loans to fund the planting of emergency feed crops for livestock producers and in some cases allowing farmers to defer loan payments, he said.

Mr. O'Herlihy did not have information on rates but added that the program is "more about access to capital, fee concessions, working lines of credit and some deferrals."

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