Christopher Luxon has taken aim at the Government's treatment of farmers, saying they are undervalued and "not villains".
Speaking in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's hometown of Morrinsville on Friday, Luxon said he was becoming worried the nation was becoming "small", "inward-looking" and "fearful".
"I fundamentally believe we're going in the wrong direction in this country," he told a crowd of people in the Waikato town.
"Having lived all around the world and I can tell you New Zealand is without a doubt the best country on planet Earth, there is no doubt about it. We have huge challenges ahead of us but we have huge opportunities."
Luxon pointed to the farming and agricultural industry as being the country's most valuable asset.
"I don’t think this Government cares about farmers and the rural communities. I don’t think they appreciate them, I think they’ve undervalued them. Farmers are not villains.
"The reality is, 80 per cent of our exports come from farming. This Government is raining rules, regulations and costs down on the farming industry."
While farming and agriculture has been proven to produce large amounts of carbon emissions, Luxon said New Zealand was the world-leader in environmentally-friendly farming and if herd sizes here were reduced, they would simply be moved to other countries whose practices were worse for the environment.
"I want this country to be world-leading in solving agriculture emissions. We don't have obvious solutions today, but we invest in New Zealand's research facilities."
Luxon said National would propose solutions to the climate change challenges the nation faces going forward, including improving freshwater quality by region, rather than blanket nation-wide regulations in a shot at the Government's proposed Three Waters plan.