The French agricultural school in Alfred appears to be saved from closure after two Francophone colleges signed agreements-in-principle to continue to deliver programs on the campus.

The University of Guelph announced Wednesday that its two eastern Ontario campuses in Kemptville and Alfred would close in 2015 due to rising costs, stalled enrolment and a $32 million deficit.

On Thursday, the Government of Ontario announced that details are being finalized with La Cité Collégiale in Ottawa and Collège Boréal in Sudbury to take over the delivery of programs on the Alfred campus.

The government said in a news release that it is "reaching out to community leaders, businesses and institutions" about maintaining English agricultural programs on the Kemptville campus but "no immediate partners have emerged."

The English-language programs are set to move to the University of Guelph's Ridgetown campus, 650 kilometres away in Chatham-Kent​.

The loss of the English program in eastern Ontario has set off criticism about Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is also the Minister of Agriculture.

Wynne suggested there's still hope for the Kemptville campus but pointed out the programs will still be offered elsewhere.

"Those programs are not being cancelled. It's a matter of the University of Guelph, as all post secondary institutions are doing, looking at their programs and determining which are the most viable," she said.

Mounting opposition to Kemptville campus closure

The Progressive Conservative agriculture and food critic sent an open letter on Thursday, calling on the premier to stand up for agriculture.

Ernie Hardeman, the MPP for Oxford, said that as farmers continue to age, now is the time to encourage more young people to train in food and agriculture  not take away those opportunities.

"That's the number one issue in rural Ontario. And then to have an announcement like this — doesn't seem logical to me at all,he said. "There's an awful lot of people who do believe with enough public pressure they can change the decision, and in this case, I hope they're right."

Steve Clark, the MPP for Leeds-Grenville, started an online petition to save the eastern Ontario campuses, which garnered more than 2,700 signatures in 24 hours.

Business case not sustainable

John Newman, the vice president of the Kemptville College Foundation, said the business case to keep the campus open is not sustainable. The campus needs refurbishing that would cost tens of millions of dollars, he said.

"They just took a look at the business case and said this isn't sustainable," he said.  

Newman said the reality is that there are fewer farms in eastern Ontario, and fewer young farmers looking for an agricultural education. He has farmed in North Gower and graduated from the Kemptville agricultural school in 1953. 

"I was as emotional as everybody else because I have a long term connection with the place. Do I want it to stay open, yes I do, but at the same time, you've got to look at it from a business reality stand point," he said.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is hosting a previously scheduled summit in Kemptville this weekend. Newman said the fate of the college is on the agenda.