Gov.Martin O'Malleyhas requested federal disaster relief for 13 counties in the state that have experienced "widespread crop losses" this year due to drought and extreme heat.

In a letter dated Tuesday, O'Malley asked Tom Vilsack, secretary of theU.S. Department of Agriculture, to issue a Secretarial Disaster Designation for the counties based on Maryland Farm Service Agency data showing they are experiencing crop losses of more than 30 percent this year.

"I urge you to act quickly upon this request so that appropriate relief can be made available to eligible producers," O'Malley wrote in the letter.

The declaration would make the counties eligible for federal disaster relief funding.

"By requesting this disaster designation, we hope to provide some relief to our local farmers, who are a vital part of Maryland's economy, and we will continue to work with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and our federal delegation to help our farmers get through this drought," O'Malley said in a statement about the request released Wednesday.

Rainfall across Maryland for the first six months of 2012 was the fifth lowest on record, and rainfall has been far below normal atBaltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airportand at other locations in the state where precipitation is monitored.

O'Malley's statement Wednesday said National Drought Mitigation Center data shows 76 percent of Maryland is under abnormally dry conditions.

The counties O'Malley requested disaster declarations for were Anne Arundel, Dorchester, Somerset, Calvert, Kent, Talbot, Caroline, Prince George's, Wicomico, Cecil, Queen Anne's, Charles and St. Mary's.

He also requested Vilsack offer the designation to any other counties that "subsequently qualify" for it.

The state's Department of Agriculture is offering free testing of grains for toxins that drought conditions can produce and that can be poisonous to livestock, O'Malley's statement said.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun