Faced with a staggering debt, President Obama is right to look for potential budget savings where he can.

But if the cuts are to programs that with a little investment now would likely save taxpayers money in the end, it’s not really savings.

In its budget for next year, the administration has proposed cutting $30 million from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that would help stop invasive pests and diseases before they ravage produce and other U.S. crops.

The 2008 farm bill allocated $45 million in 2010 for the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention program, which is being administered by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Cutting the program by two-thirds before it’s even given a chance to prove its effectiveness is just bad policy, especially because produce industry veterans are so adamant that it will be money well spent.

Untold millions of dollars have been lost because of infestations of Medfly and other unwanted critters found in U.S. fruit and vegetable fields. The same goes for citrus canker, greening and other destructive diseases.

Without a fully funded APHIS prevention program, growers will sit back and cross their fingers that disaster doesn’t strike. If it does, they’ll go begging to Congress, which will try to scrape together funds out of its emergency discretionary budget.

According to APHIS, the new program would:

  • improve pest and disease analyses and surveys;
  • increase inspections at vulnerable points of entry; and
  • fund new technology to better identify pests and diseases.

In his speeches on health care reform, Obama has rightly discussed the importance of prevention. The same lesson could be applied to keeping pests and diseases off U.S. soil before the patient — U.S. agriculture — gets sick. 

Did The Packer get it right? Leave a comment with your take on the issue.