A decision to close Guelph University’s Kemptville College is being met with opposition from union groups who say the closure could have a negative impact on both agriculture in Eastern Ontario and related jobs across the province.
The university announced last week that it will close its Kemptville and Alfred campuses—the only agricultural schools in eastern Ontario—in 2015.
Opened in 1917, Kemptville College was transferred to the university in 1997 to serve as a research and teaching college specializing in areas such as dairy and field production.
“The connections you make there, the alumni, all of them are working in the industry, maybe not milking cows or right on the farm, but they are working for agricultural businesses,” explains Eleanor Renau, director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.
Renau adds that Kemptville often started careers not necessarily connected directly to agriculture, such as diesel mechanics, which could involve working on a transport truck. The feed industry could also be impacted, as could other trades such as welding.
The closure coincides with a growing demand for workers in the trades.
“There is a huge shortage that is why there are three jobs for every one student,” said Reau. “That may be the type of college that we are looking for.”
Several groups and alumni had helped contribute funds to the building of a new barn two years ago at the college, which included advanced farming technologies. Funders expected that research would be conducted at the facility with benefits for the community.
“You lose a sense of community when you close something such as a college, but when you link it to agriculture there tends to be a little more to it,” said Karen Eatwell, Ontario president of the National Farmers Union.
“There is something deep-rooted when you close an agricultural college.”
Some of the programs offered at Kemptville will be transferred to the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus located nearly 650 km away in Chatman in Southwestern Ontario.
That may not be a viable solution for many students, said Eatwell.
“Most of those kids tend to go home on the weekends and participate on the farm,” she said. “Even if they are getting an education they are still linked to their home communities. If they are travelling all the way to Riddgetown College it isn’t going to happen. That is not feasible to drive across the province.”
The closure of the Kemptville and Alfred campuses are only the latest in a series of closures of agricultural colleges across the province.
Centralia College of Agricultural Technology, located near London, closed in 1994 after cutbacks. Similarly, New Liskeard College of Agricultural Technology near New Liskeard closed in 1994, impacting farmers in Ontario’s North. The New Liskeard site still conducts research.
“Agriculture is booming. The world is hungry and so it’s disappointing that a lot of the northern communities don’t have a place to study,” said Tony Straathof, a regional council and Renfrew County President for the National Farmers Union.
Straathof explains that the region around New Liskeard is now undergoing significant agricultural expansion and the techniques are specific for the area. He questions whether a similar challenge could occur in Eastern Ontario if Kemptville’s College closes.
“Agriculture is regional. We take our geography and climate and we need to grow to those conditions,” said Tony Straathof, a regional council and Renfrew County President of the National Farmers Union.
“They will be offering courses in Ridgetown, which is geographically, climatically completely different from Eastern Ontario.”
Kaven Baker-Voakes is a freelance reporter based in Ottawa.