TIM Mazzarol says there are three broad options for the great swathe of Australian farmers struggling with profitability: get bigger, go niche, or collaborate.
Or "get out", the Winthrop Professor of Marketing at the University of Western Australia might have added; except he is analysing what it will take to maintain profitable food and fibre production.
Australian farmers have never been more productive, and the food price index has been rising over the past decade, yet farmer debt is at record levels.
There are a range of factors at play, but Prof. Mazzarol's focus is on the supply chain, specifically on the "supply chain funnel" that is occurring as more of the global food supply is channelled through fewer companies.
There are tens of thousands of producers in Australia, and millions of consumers, but the food and fibre that leaves the farm hits a "chokepoint" between farmer and consumer.
The "choke" takes the form of a relatively few, mostly big companies, often multinationals, that by occupying key positions between farm and plate have taken control of much of the supply chain.
Food marketing that used to be farmer-owned through co-operatives or State governments is now mostly in the hands of global traders.
"These firms and large global buyers now dictate quality and the timing and price of food from producers," Prof. Mazzarol wrote in the online journal, The Conversation.
"Major retailers and buyers will demand more quality and stricter controls over food safety issues. Some will work with small groups of selected, often large scale producers, to supply produce at pre-determined levels of quality, price and delivery times.
"Many smaller farmers will not meet the necessary standards."
Prof. Mazzarol and some colleagues have been investigating how average family farms - agriculture's "middle" - can survive this new trading environment.
The usual path is to get bigger to improve economies of scale, or to focus on higher profitability by selling niche products rather than commodities.
Prof. Mazzarol is contributing to a book that explores another option, the farmer co-operative.
"It's always disappointing to hear people say that co-operatives are an old business model," he said. "They're not - they are becoming a very dynamic model in some countries."
Through the 1980s and 90s, the co-operative model came to be seen as an anachronism in the push for open markets.
In Australia, co-operatives were also handicapped by regulations that favoured corporations, and doubts about the model's longevity surfaced as the shareholders of some prominent agricultural co-ops chose to cash in their investment, stripping co-ops of resources.
But successful "new generation" co-operatives are re-emerging everywhere, evolving alongside the surviving co-ops from another age, like the 60-year-old Murray-Goulburn Co-operative.
There are solar energy co-operatives in Germany, car-sharing co-ops in Sweden, chicken meat co-ops in Greece. The Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society has wrested back the Scottish pork industry from a near-wipeout by Scandinavian and Irish pork imports.
Prof. Mazzarol referred to a study of several European Union agricultural co-operatives found that by aggregating producers into a meaningful scale, investing in their own research and development, and creating desirable producer brands, the co-ops successfully competed with three multinationals that controlled 40-80 per cent of EU markets for the co-ops' products.
The natural companion to ag co-operatives - and sometimes, Prof. Mazzarol said, a necessary one - is a form of co-operative finance.
"An important part of the architecture of what we need to build is 'patient capital' for these agricultural industries," he said.
"I'm sure some people will say that's just rural welfare, but we need to ask some bigger questions. If we just stick to an economic rationalist model and say, 'if farmers aren't big enough they can all go out of business' - well, we might lose more than we anticipate.
"Farming isn’t just about producing food. It's about the communities in our rural areas.
"Co-operatives often have a dual function, to generate economic capital and also to generate social capital in the communities they operate in.
"They aren't just another cartel. They are there to benefit the community."