In recent decades, there has been growing interest among farming and scientific communities toward integrated crop–range–livestock farming because of evidence of increased crop production, soil health, environmental services and resilience to increased climatic variability. This paper reviews studies on existing cropping systems and integrated crop–range–livestock systems across the USA which are relevant in the context of summarizing opportunities and challenges associated with implementing long-term crop–range–livestock systems research in the highly variable environment of the central High Plains. With precipitation ranging from 305 to 484mm and uncertain irrigation water supply, this region is especially vulnerable to changing moisture and temperature patterns. The results of our review indicate that diverse crop rotations, reduced soil disturbance and integrated crop–livestock systems could increase economic returns and agroecosystem resilience. Integrating agricultural system components to acquire unique benefits from small- to medium-sized operations, however, is a challenging task. This is because assessment and identification of suitable farming systems, selection of the most efficient integration scheme, and pinpointing the best management practices are crucial for successful integration of components. Effective integration requires development of evaluation criteria that incorporate the efficiency of approaches under consideration and their interactions. Therefore, establishing the basis for more sustainable farming systems in the central High Plains relies on both long-term agricultural systems research and evaluation of short-term dynamics of individual components.