The drought may be holding the attention of crop watchers around the world, but professionals in the Agriculture Department also are keeping a weather eye on other countries that compete with American grain farmers in the global market.

A deep fear of farmers, real or partly imagined, is that the U.S. government, other countries, war in the Mideast or the weather might deprive them of the valuable export markets that have meant so much.With rising grain prices and declining prospects for 1988 harvests, some foreign buyers might be tempted to shop around to see if better deals can be made. It's one of the possibilities the USDA is considering.

"Foreign grain production, excluding rice, is forecast up 3 percent in 1988-89, led by increases in Europe and the Soviet Union," says the department's Economic Research Service. "However, among the major exporters competing with the United States, smaller gains in grain area and production are expected."

If Europe and the Soviet Union are discounted, total area and production of wheat and coarse grains - mostly corn, oats, barley and sorghum - are expected to climb by less than 2 percent, remaining well below the levels of the early 1980s.

As with U.S. harvest prospects this year, the world situation also is uncertain, and early crop projections are likely to undergo substantial revisions, especially for crops in the Southern Hemisphere.

Two agency economists, Pete Riley and Sara Schwartz, examined the competitive grain export situation in a report scheduled for the July issue of Agricultural Outlook magazine.

"Concerns about hot and dry weather in the United States and Canada and the recent run up in prices may have influenced Southern Hemisphere farmers' planting decisions, which are made in May and June," the report said.

But the report added that only a few large adjustments in planted area or production are expected.