The Carter administration is drafting its own short-term measures to help farmers in the belated attempt to dissuade Congress from enacting a far more costly program when it reconvenes next week.
Officials said that the measures could include the purchase of 230 million bushels (6.2 million tons) of wheat for an international famine relief reserve, as well as payments to corn producers for idling more of their land.
The administration action comes as grain prices are moving up sharply - partly in anticipation of government action to increase price supports.
Reports that drought has damaged the Brazilian soybean crop were also said to have an influence on rising futures quotations in Chicago.
Officials said that plans under study would hold grain prices at these present levels rather than raise them further.
Congressional conferees are to meet next week to decide on various Senate-approved emergency amendments to raise price supports and increase the income of farmers.
Administration officials charge that Congress was "stampeded" into this by the pressure tactics of the American Agricultural Movement, which carried out the most intensive farm lobbying campaign in recent years.
However, critics of the administration say that Carter and his aides sat on the hands for weeks and only now are becoming aware of the impact of the new programs on food prices and the income of consumers.
The Agriculture Department predicted yesterday that 1978 retail food prices will average 6 to 8 percent higher than last year, with higher farm prices cited as one reason.
Last week, the president's Council on Wage and Price Stability asserted in an unusually strong attack that the Senate's emergency farm legislation would rise food prices and add to existing inflationary pressure in the economy. It said that "there would be a major risk of returning the country to double-digit inflation."
The White House has begun recieving complaints from labor unions and consumer organizations about the proposed Senate measures.
Vice President Mondale met yesterday with Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland to consider administration measures, which could be announced as early as today.
Sources said that, in addition to the help for grain farmers, the administration may add assistance for cotton growers. This probably would involve some kind of land retirement program.
The sources said that the strategy would be to swing conferees from cotton states behind the more modified administration approach to the farm problem. The Senate measures do not contain extensive assistance to the cotton growers.
Most wheat futures have moved above $3 a bushel, and corn futures exceed $2.50 a bushel. Both are above the level cat which the government supports the price.
Bergland has said that this is evidence that the existing farm program is working. This program will required, among other things, that farmers idle 20 percent of their wheat land and 10 percent of their corn land in the coming season. The objective is to reduce the size of the grain surpluses and get prices up.
Officials cited as evidence of the administration's confused approach to the situation the fact that at least four different proposals were circulating here Monday.
One with a good chance of adoption would let corn growers idle an additional 5 to 10 percent of their land and receive a payment of several cents a bushel according to the land's usual yeilds.