Rural affairs minister Elin Jones has said it is vitally important Wales continues to produce its own food to help keep the economy and communities alive.

She was speaking at a meeting with farmers at Llanddewi Velfrey village hall, when issues including supermarket pricing, the devastating impact of TB, and the need for more young blood in the industry were raised.

The meeting on January 28th was organised with AM for mid and west Wales, Nerys Evans and chaired by west Carmarthen and south Pembrokeshire Plaid Cymru candidate, John Dixon.

The Minister agreed it was important to ensure the market worked more fairly for farmers.

“It is encouraging news that the Westminster Government has agreed we need an ombudsman for supermarkets,” she said, adding that this alone would not secure a fair price for farmers but would help secure a fairer playing field.

She referred to the work the Assembly was doing to try to get the best for farmers during European discussions about changes to farm payments and how the 3.5m euro dairy fund available in Wales, would be distributed.

“Since December 1st, £290m of payments has been made through the single farm payment scheme in Wales,” she said. “95.7% of farmers in Carmarthenshire have been paid £31.3m of payments. And 97.3% of Pembrokeshire farmers have been paid to a value of £25.2m to the economy. That means £50m has been paid to farmers in this area alone.

“I am firmly of the view that this money is not just important to farmers, they spend it in the local economy. That money is spread far more widely than just into their bank accounts.”

On bovine TB, she said it was essential to remove sources of the infection, hence the pilot government-controlled badger cull. About 12,000 cattle were culled last year, costing £24m in compensation alone, she said, with the true cost to the community much more.

“We have to stop the disease,” she said. “In west Wales it is endemic. The figures are quite substantial.

“It [the badger cull] is not an easy decision for people living in communities that may be affected by it to understand, but this is necessary.”

Retired farmer Sir Eric Howells was among those to highlight the difficulties faced by farmers such as the issue of supermarket pricing.

He said: “Milk is 19p a litre but being sold for 88p in supermarkets. And I had cornflakes for my breakfast which were about £2 a box. Farmers get £100 a tonne for cereal. At that rate, it is £5,000 a tonne.

“There are a lot of us and just five supermarkets. I am bitter because of what it is doing to my son’s and other farms.

“In our valley there used to be 40 farms. Each has gone and now there are just five.

“Urban government likes the countryside to come to, but if there are no farms they won’t be interested in coming. We need farms. If you destroy agriculture, you destroy communities.”

Other issues raised with the minister included what was being done to ensure the public better understands the tragedy faced by farmers in the wake of TB and what could be done to bring more young, and particularly new, blood into the industry.