This study discusses the soil surface conditions under which crusting and runoff are generated. A field survey was conducted in three agricultural districts in the province of A Coruña (Galicia, Spain), where the soils, developed over basic schists in a temperate-humid climate, are prone to crusting. A total of 168 freshly tilled surfaces and the cumulative natural rainfall since the last tillage operation were studied. The agricultural situations corresponded to primary and secondary tillage, crop seedbeds and pasture seedbeds. Stages of soil crusting were recorded by visual assessment, based on the estimation of the extent of structural, transitional and sedimentary crusting. The runoff was estimated by measuring the maximum distance reached by soil particles carried by the runoff and then deposited on the soil surface where there were no incisions on soil. Surface crusting was observed in all agricultural situations. The amount of accumulated rainfall required to form a fully sedimentary crust was variable, depending largely on the initial soil surface roughness. On average, 50, 150 and 350 mm of accumulated rainfall were required for soil surfaces with a low, medium and high roughness, respectively. The combination of three soil surface conditions (crusting stage, roughness and vegetation cover) was primarily responsible for the start of runoff formation.