The American grain embargo against the Soviet Union will plow a pronounced furrow in the finances of the US government -- and of individual Americans. The price tag, as revealed this week in President Carter's proposed annual federal budget: at least $2.8 billion for various efforts to cushion the blow to farmers and grain shippers, or roughly $13 in taxes for each man, woman, and child.
And the cost could nearly double if the administration proceeds with further steps, which it says it might, and if indirect expenditures are included.
Putting the figure into budgetary perspective, the minimum ($2.8 billion) cost of the retaliatory political gesture over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan equals all federal outlays for agriculture projected for the coming fiscal year.
That amounts to less than 1 percent of the estimated US Treasury deficit of $ 40 billion for the current fiscal year, but Sen. Adlai E. Stevenson III (D) of Illinois, a leading critic of the embargo, says it actually could wind up swelling the deficit by 10 percent.
The Carter figures exclude major related costs, such as $3.8 billion during this year and next year for record-high export credit financing to help other countries buy American farm commodities.
Also not included is the more than $1 billion estimated cost of paying grain farmers to cut the size of their crops that they plant this spring -- an action that the government says it is "prepared" to take "if circumstances warrant."
The embargo's direct costs alone would create a two-year bulge in the nation's agricultural budget, most of it ($2 billion) during fiscal 1980 and the remainder ($0.8 billion) during fiscal 1981, which begins in October.
The money would finance an "export control mitigation program" that would:
* Buy up 14.8 million metric tons of grain, soybeans, and soybean products diverted from the Soviet Union.
* Raise loan levels for wheat and feed grains.
* Offer incentives for farmers to replenish the nation's depleted grain reserves.
* Establish a new wheat reserve for international famine relief.
In the longer term, the government plans to redouble its efforts to develop export markets for American farm commodities outside the Soviet Union.
Although agriculture ranks only 15th in size among the 17 federal functions funded by the President's budget, it generates one- fifth of the American gross national product and makes the US the world's largest exporter of farm products, on which millions across the globe depend for basic nutrition.