Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she understood the primary sector was facing "significant challenges", but said that delaying reforms of the rural economy would be "more damaging".
She was speaking as thousands of farmers, tradies, and people working in the agricultural sector planned a 57 city protest against a number of Government reforms on Friday.
Protesters have been encouraged to bring their dogs to the protest, leading to the event being named a "Howl of Protest".
The protest was organised by Groundswell, a group formed in the wake of the Government's freshwater reforms last term. Groundswell co-founder Bryce McKenzie said the Government's Clean Car Standard was just the latest in a spate of policies that hit the rural sector, that he feels haven't been adequately consulted on.
"We're coming in for all of these changes, but grassroots farmers haven't been consulted," McKenzie said.
The clean car standard puts a fee on high-emissions vehicles like utes to fund a discount on low-emissions vehicles. The policy has faced criticism from farmers and tradies who say they'll be forced to pay fees on utes because there are no low-emissions alternatives to utes.
The Government put an early version of the policy out for consultation last year, and its freshwater changes were also put out for consultation. McKenzie said that in those cases, the consultation was a "box-ticking exercise," and farmers didn't feel like their submissions were listened to.
Now, the agriculture sector is getting ready for the Government to bring it into the Emissions Trading Scheme by 2025, although, like many industrial emitters, agriculture will pay a fraction of the cost of those emissions, which will enjoy a 95 per cent discount.
On top of the charge on utes and ETS changes, farmers are also grappling with freshwater reforms the Ministry for the Environment believes could cost $148,500 over 10 years for a hypothetical sheep and beef farm on rolling hill country and $93,500 for a lowland dairy farm.
"Farmers feel they're unduly singled out by this. They're carrying the burden for the rest of the country.
"The whole system is completely warped," McKenzie said.
He said rural communities were "nervous" about the reforms, which was feeding through into mental health.
"The mental anguish in the rural sector is high," he said.
Ardern said she would "not deny" that there were "big challenges" for New Zealand as a whole and the rural sector in particular.
"They include everything from how we transition in the face of climate change to how we reverse some of the degradation of our waterways together and there is no doubt that our primary sector sits at the forefront of how we resolve those issues together," Ardern said.
"We have been very committed and focused on how we can address those together," she said.
Ardern said that reducing emissions and cleaning up waterways was important for New Zealand's brand internationally. She said this might have an impact on future trade agreements negotiated by the Government.
"We trade on our brand. When we enter trade negotiations, the questions we face are very much about issues such as our contribution to climate change, the most significant of which, unfortunately, comes from our food production," Ardern said.
Trade negotiations with the European Union and the United Kingdom have both included discussions on ensuring trade addresses issues like climate change.
McKenzie said he accepted that some things needed to change, but urged the Government to consider that penalising farmers in New Zealand could simply shift food production offshore - likely to a country with higher emissions.
"We sell a lot of our stuff into those countries that have far poorer standards than us.
"If we don't produce it - someone else is at a higher footprint than what we've got," he said