President Reagan is being advised by a number of Republicans, conservatives as well as moderates, to stick with the partial grain embargo which President Carter imposed against the Soviet Union last year.
It is not yet clear what Mr. Reagan will decide, but some of the senators from the Midwest who oppose the partial embargo suspect that the new President is moving toward support for it, thus reversing his earlier position.
Before his election, Reagan had declared that the embargo, imposed by President Carter following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, should be ended, because it "has hurt farmers and has accomplished little or nothing." But when asked about this on Jan. 2, Reagan said it was a matter for "a great deal of study."
Officials now say that this is one of the first foreign policy questions which Reagan will address. The President must decide whether to renew or renegotiate a five-year US- Soviet grain agreement which expires Sept. 30.
"I think Reagan's caught on the horns of a dilemma," said a Senate staff specialist on agriculture. "He's caught between two definite positions -- the hard-line, anti-Soviet position he's taken and what he's said about the impact of the embargo on American farmers."
Government experts and an apparently growing number of Reagan foreign policy advisers argue that the grain embargo has had significant impact on the Soviet Union. Their arguments have been bolstered by a report from the conservative Heritage Foundation and by recommendations from a nonpartisan panel of foreign policy experts headed by William Scranton, former governor of Pennsylvania and ambassador to the United Nations, which sent a delegation to the Soviet Union last November. The panel, sponsored by the United Nations Association of the USA, included several members of past Republican administrations.
Those from the panel who went to the USSR saw long lines of people waiting to buy meat in the southern part of the country. They concluded that apparent meat shortages could be traced to the partial embargo of feed grains, and they decided unanimously that grain exports were a legitimate and effective tool for influencing Soviet policies.
In a recently completed report on US-Soviet relations, the panel concluded that "the US grain embargo has had a significant long-term impact on the Soviet economy." It declared that "one of the clearest barometers of the new administration's policy toward the Soviet Union will be whether or not the partial grain embargo is extended."
The Heritage Foundation -- a conservative, tax-exempt policy research organization which contributed advisers to the Reagan transition team -- recently issued a 23-page report by Paige Bryan, associate director of foreign trade policy at the United States Chamber of Commerce, which recommends an even stronger embargo.
Mr. Bryan, an international economist, argues that the partial embargo has slowed the growth of agriculture and reduced meat consumption in the Soviet Union.
At the same time, Bryan asserts that the economic blow to American farmers selling grain to the soviets was cushioned by drought which reduced US crops and thus raised grain prices, actions taken by the Carter administration to offset adverse effects, and an increase in the worldwide demand for grain which resulted in an absolute increase in grain exports.
Some of the Senate's staff specialists on the subject argue, however, that while the partial embargo has clearly had some impact on Soviet meat production, it has not been substantial. They further assert that US farm income would have been higher in the absence of the partial embargo and that the action taken by President Carter has damaged the worldwide image of reliability which the US had as a grain supplier.
Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, who heads the Senate Agriculture Committee, believes that the partial embargo has not been successful because it was not applied "across the board." He would have recommended a total trade ban against the Soviets so that everyone -- and not just farmers -- would bear the cost.
Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D) of Nebraska told the Monitor that the embargo was ineffective because others moved into the breach. Argentina, he said, even repurchased grain it had sold to Italy and then resold it at higher prices to the Soviets. Australia, he added, was shipping to the Soviets in excess of its average.
Senator Zorinsky also charged that wheat which the US shipped to West Germany ended up being milled into 860,000 metric tons of flour which the West Germans then promptly ship ped off to the Soviets.