Aware of President Reagan's propensity to respond sympathetically to stories of individual tragedy, Iowa Gov. Terry E. Branstad (R) said yesterday that he appealed to the president for help with the farm problem by telling him of the recent suicides of three Iowa farmers, one of whom was a friend.

"I just wanted the president to hear firsthand what's going on," said Branstad, who said that he deliberately couched his appeal in personal rather than political terms. "We're in deep trouble and need help. I know that the human element is more important to the president than political considerations."

Branstad, who was in town for a Republican governors' meeting, visited the White House Thursday to urge Reagan not to veto the farm bill and to support a bailout of the ailing federal farm credit system.

He described the farm problem as a "major calamity" similar to a hurricane, in which the federal government is expected to provide help, but he said that the administration "doesn't understand because they're looking at it with an ideological view."

"In my lifetime, I've never seen such distress, not just with farmers but with businessmen and small towns, and it's rapidly getting worse, like a snowball going downhill," Branstad said. "But I know they [the administation] want to do as little as possible, as late as possible. I know that's what [former budget director] David Stockman had in mind and Stockman's outlook seems to be pervasive."

He described the farmers who committed suicide as "successful" and "achievers" until they got caught in the present crunch. "It's the same thing we heard about in the '30s when people were jumping out of windows," he said.

If Reagan was moved by Branstad's descriptions, he made no commitments on help, the governor said. "Facially, he responded in a sympathetic way," Branstad said. "Verbally, he really didn't respond."

Administration officials say Reagan is almost sure to veto the farm bill, now before the Senate, because it is already $19 billion over congressional budget guidelines.

While he made his appeal in personal terms, Branstad predicted that the farm crisis will be damaging to the Republican party "if the administration continues to take the posture it has."

"The president has a clear, wholesale revolt right through the middle of the United States on this issue," he said. "It is broad and deep and wide."