FARMER power has landed a major victory in the Dutch provincial elections and could hold the balance of power in the Dutch Senate.

The farmer-friendly rural party, the Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB), has landed a major victory by coming from nowhere to finish ahead of Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte's centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) party.

The election was being treated by many as a referendum on the government's harsh policies aimed at clamping down on nitrogen emissions from farms, which triggered huge farmers' protests last summer.

Before the recent election BBB had no representative in the Senate and is now set to win 15 out of 75 seats, becoming tied with the Labour-Green coalition as the biggest party in the Parliament's high chamber. The Prime Minister’s party looks set to record only 10 seats, according to exit polls published by Dutch newswire ANP, on Thursday, morning.

The result will be a major blow to Rutte's ruling coalition — made up of VVD, the liberal Democrats 66, the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal and the Christian Union — which lost eight of its 32 seats.

"Nobody can ignore us any longer," BBB leader, Caroline van der Plas, told Dutch broadcaster Radio 1. "Voters have spoken out very clearly against this government's policies."

The government aimed to cut nitrogen emissions in half by 2030, as relatively large numbers of livestock and heavy use of fertilisers had led, it said, to levels of nitrogen oxides in the soil and water that violated EU regulations.

The nitrogen problem had also crippled construction in the Netherlands, as environmental groups won a string of court cases ordering government to limit emissions and preserve nature, before new building permits could be granted.

The BBB argued that the problem had been exaggerated and that proposed solutions were unfairly balanced against farmers, leading to the closure of many farms and food production shortages. The party also sought to remove the ban on neonicotinoids and wants to wind back EU regulation to similar levels to when it was known as the EEC.

Prime Minister Rutte acknowledged the results were 'not what [he] wanted,' but said the stability of his cabinet was not called into question. The farmers' party was created three years ago in response to the so-called nitrogen crisis and a recent national poll put them as achieving 16% of the vote at a general election – which would make them the third largest party in the country.