Net primary production (NPP), the difference between CO2 fixed by photosynthesis and CO2 lost to autotrophic respiration, is one of the most important components of the carbon cycle. Our goal was to develop a simple regression model to estimate global NPP using climate and land cover data. Approximately 5600 global data points with observed mean annual NPP, land cover class, precipitation, and temperature were compiled. Precipitation was better correlated with NPP than temperature, and it explained much more of the variability in mean annual NPP for grass- or shrub-dominated systems (r2 = 0.68) than for tree-dominated systems (r2 = 0.39). For a given precipitation level, tree-dominated systems had significantly higher NPP (∼100–150 g C·m−2·yr−1) than non-tree-dominated systems. Consequently, previous empirical models developed to predict NPP based on precipitation and temperature (e.g., the Miami model) tended to overestimate NPP for non-tree-dominated systems. Our new model developed at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (the NCEAS model) predicts NPP for tree-dominated systems based on precipitation and temperature; but for non-tree-dominated systems NPP is solely a function of precipitation because including a temperature function increased model error for these systems. Lower NPP in non-tree-dominated systems is likely related to decreased water and nutrient use efficiency and higher nutrient loss rates from more frequent fire disturbances. Late 20th century aboveground and total NPP for global potential native vegetation using the NCEAS model are estimated to be ∼28 Pg and ∼46 Pg C/yr, respectively. The NCEAS model estimated an ∼13% increase in global total NPP for potential vegetation from 1901 to 2000 based on changing precipitation and temperature patterns.