Federated Farmers national president Katie Milne says councils need new ways to diversify their funding and the reliance on rating is "abhorrent" and needs addressing.
In her report to the rural lobby organisation's national conference, Ms Milne said that would be particularly helpful for councils with a small rating base.
Central government must also make sure councils were reasonable in how they rated "and not bleed the public for projects which may never get off the ground or pet ideas that only serve the ideologies of the few rather than the many".
"There is a belief we are all rich farmers but this is just a myth," she said.
Consumer behaviour was changing, so farmers' ability to be adaptable and resilient was needed now more than ever, Ms Milne said.
On the horizon was the new wave of consumers, behaving unlike any other generation before. Meat alternatives dressed up as real "meat" were on their way.
Marketers were moving to push consumers towards alternative products "and people are eating up their messages without questioning what they're being fed".
The nutrient values of those products were not the same and that was yet to be fully understood, she said.
The farming industry was responding well to new health and safety legislation and work deaths were down.
"When someone goes to work, they should be able to expect to go home unharmed to their families. Efforts from our rural communities and employers show we respond and meet challenges. What would be good to see from policymakers is more funding to address mental health concerns," she said.
She had several conversations where employers had spoken about the "huge gaps" in mental health provisions when they tried to get their staff help.
Perhaps it was time to "think more outside the square" to drive positive change, she said.