The recent study by McGrath and Lobell (2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 014054) assesses the interaction of a changing climate and the carbon dioxide fertilization effect (CFE) on crop productivity. By accounting for the differential response of individual crops and using a finer geographic scale to assess climate effects on crops they have found that previous estimates of the CFE have likely overestimated future yields in some regions while underestimating yields in others. While this work improves our estimates of potential crop yields in an elevated CO2 atmosphere, it also highlights knowledge gaps regarding the response of major crops to the effects of elevated CO2 under the sub-optimal growing conditions predicted for many regions in the future.