Global warming is likely already taking a toll on world wheat and corn production, according to a new study led by Stanford University researchers. But the United States, Canada and northern Mexico have largely escaped the trend.

"It appears as if farmers in North America got a pass on the first round of global warming," said David Lobell, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford University.  "That was surprising, given how fast we see weatherhas been changing in agricultural areas around the world as a whole."

Lobell and his colleagues examined temperature and precipitation records since 1980 for major crop-growing countries in the places and times of year when crops are grown. They then used crop models to estimate what worldwide crop yields would have been had temperature and precipitation had typical fluctuations around 1980 levels.

The researchers found that global wheat production was 5.5 percent lower than it would have been had the climate remained stable, and global corn production was lower by almost 4 percent. Global rice and soybean production were not significantly affected.

The United States, which is the world's largest producer of soybeans and corn, accounting for roughly 40 percent of global production, experienced a very slight cooling trend and no significant production impacts.

Outside of North America, most major producing countries were found to have experienced some decline in wheat and corn (or maize) yields related to the rise in global temperature. "Yields in most countries are still going up, but not as fast as we estimate they would be without climate trends," Lobell said.

Lobell is the lead author of a paper about the research published May 5 online in Science Express.

Russia, India and France suffered the greatest drops in wheat production relative to what might have been with no global warming. The largest comparative losses in corn production were seen in China and Brazil.

Total worldwide relative losses of the two crops equal the annual production of corn in Mexico and wheat in France. Together, the four crops in the study – wheat, corn, soybeans and rice – constitute approximately 75 percent of the calories that humans worldwide consume, directly or indirectly through livestock, according to research cited in the study.

"Given the relatively small temperature trends in the U.S. Corn Belt, it shouldn't be surprising if complacency or even skepticism about global warming has set in, but this study suggests that would be misguided," Lobell said.