Trials were undertaken at two sites with contrasting soil types in the Wimmera region of Victoria: a well-structured grey cracking clay soil (Vertosol) at Traynors Lagoon and a poorly structured sodic clay soil (Sodosol) at Gre Gre. The effect of a once-off application of three different types of bedding litter (wheat straw and two types of rice hulls) applied at three rates (20, 30 and 40 t/ha) was compared with that of a control (no amelioration), nitrogen fertiliser (46 kg N/ha) applied to each crop, or nitrogen plus a once-off application of gypsum (2.5 t/ha). The growth of three subsequent crops and soil water was examined. Pig bedding litter (rice hulls 1, rice hulls 2 or wheat straw) produced marked improvements in the dry matter production and grain yield of the first crop (wheat) in 1997 and a following canola crop in 1998. In 1999, bedding litter significantly improved the growth of an oats crop at Gre Gre, but had no effect on a crop of field peas at Traynors Lagoon. The beneficial effects of bedding litter on grain yields, however, were matched by small but significant reductions in grain quality resulting from soil water limitations for the yield potential. Although crop growth was improved by the addition of nitrogen fertiliser each year or both nitrogen plus gypsum, the effect was usually small compared with that of adding litter and provided minimal residual value in the following year. There was a general trend for gravimetric soil water to be higher at sowing where bedding litter had been applied, especially at Gre Gre. In contrast, soil water tended to be lower at grain maturity at Traynors Lagoon, where bedding litter or nitrogen fertiliser had been applied, reflecting the enhanced crop growth in these treatments compared with the control. There was no consistent effect of treatments on soil water at maturity in either 1998 or 1999 at Gre Gre.