The estimated net ecosystem exchange (NEE) of CO2 based on measurements at 17 flux sites in Europe for 45 cropping periods showed an average loss of -38gCm-2 per cropping period. The cropping period is defined as the period after sowing or planting until harvest. The variability taken as the standard deviation of these cropping periods was 251gCm-2. These numbers do not include lateral inputs such as the carbon content of applied manure, nor the carbon exchange out of the cropping period. Both are expected to have a major effect on the C budget of high energy summer crops such as maize. NEE and gross primary production (GPP) can be estimated by crop net primary production based on inventories of biomass at these sites, independent of species and regions. NEE can also be estimated by the product of photosynthetic capacity and the number of days with the average air temperature >5 °C. Yield measured at these sites or reported at the NUTS2 level dataset of EUROSTAT is a relatively poor predictor of NEE. To investigate the difference in the variability in CO2 emissions of different crops at the same location and to compare this variation with the variation of the same crop at different locations and with the inter-annual variation the measured dataset at the flux sites was extended with simulated data. These simulations show that the variability in carbon exchange is determined by: firstly the choice of crop and the location and to a lesser extent by the yearly differences in climate. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.