To simulate cropping systems, crop models must not only give reliable predictions of yield across a wide range of environmental conditions, they must also quantify water and nutrient use well, so that the status of the soil at maturity is a good representation of the starting conditions for the next cropping sequence. To assess the suitability for this task a range of crop models, currently used in Australia, were tested. The models differed in their design objectives, complexity and structure and were (i) tested on diverse, independent data sets from a wide range of environments and (ii) model components were further evaluated with one detailed data set from a semi-arid environment. All models were coded into the cropping systems shell APSIM, which provides a common soil water and nitrogen balance. Crop development was input, thus differences between simulations were caused entirely by difference in simulating crop growth. Under nitrogen non-limiting conditions between 73 and 85% of the observed kernel yield variation across environments was explained by the models. This ranged from 51 to 77% under varying nitrogen supply. Water and nitrogen effects on leaf area index were predicted poorly by all models resulting in erroneous predictions of dry matter accumulation and water use. When measured light interception was used as input, most models improved in their prediction of dry matter and yield. This test highlighted a range of compensating errors in all modelling approaches. Time course and final amount of water extraction was simulated well by two models, while others left up to 25% of potentially available soil water in the profile. Kernel nitrogen percentage was predicted poorly by all models due to its sensitivity to small dry matter changes. Yield and dry matter could be estimated adequately for a range of environmental conditions using the general concepts of radiation use efficiency and transpiration efficiency. However, leaf area and kernel nitrogen dynamics need to be improved to achieve better estimates of water and nitrogen use if such models are to be use to evaluate cropping systems.