A 3 years field trial examined the effect of newly and previously applied lime on the growth and yield of two near-isogenic wheat genotypes differing only in aluminium (Al) tolerance (Triticum aestivum L. Al-sensitive line ES8 and Al-tolerant line ET8), and barley (Hordeum vulgare cv. Mundak) on an acid soil (pH(CaCl2) 4.6 in 0-10 cm and pH 4.1-4.3 in 10-40 cm) in the medium rainfall region of Western Australia. The trial consisted of four lime treatments: (i) no lime control; (ii) surface liming at 1.5 t ha(-1) in 1999; (iii) surface liming at 2.5 t ha(-1) in 1984; (iv) liming in 1984 and re-liming in 1999. Wheat crops were grown in 1999 and 2001, and barley was grown in 2000.Liming in 1984 increased the pH in both topsoil and subsoil and decreased toxic Al in the subsoil. Liming in 1999 largely increased soil pH in the 0-10 cm in previously unlimed and limed plots, but only slightly increased the pH in 10-20 cm 2 years after application. In 1999, there was an overall 14% grain yield increase by growing ET8, mostly due to much better performance (41%) of ET8 over ES8 in the treatment with surface liming in 1999. In 2001, ET8 had yield 24% higher in the no lime control and 14% higher in the treatment with liming in 1999 compared with ES8. While both genotypes had similar root length density in the topsoil, root length density in acid subsoil was 22-160% higher for ET8 than for ES8. Wheat genotypes produced 23-24% higher yield due to the liming in 1984 compared to the no lime control. In 2000 season, shoot biomass of barley increased by 45-70% in the limed treatments compared with the no lime control. Liming at 2.5 t ha(-1) in 1984 or liming at 1.5 t ha(-1) in 1999 increased yield by 25%. Liming in 1984 and re-liming in 1999 increased the yield by over 50%. The results suggest that surface liming can ameliorate subsoil acidity as measured 15-17 years after application, and that growing an Al-tolerant crop in combination with surface liming provides a good strategy to combat subsoil acidity. The genotypic variation in response to liming appears to result from the difference in the sensitivity of root proliferation to low pH and high Al. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.