Concentrated flow erosion is the dominant form of winter erosion in northern France. This study correlates the ephemeral rill and gully volumes measured in 20 cultivated catchments (4–95 ha) for three consecutive winters with the size of the potential runoff-contributing areas. These areas were identified by characterizing soil surface state through crust development stage, importance of surface wheel tracks and roughness grade. A single and significant relationship was found between the size of runoff-contributing areas, estimated by this criterion, and the rill and gully volumes. This identified the proportion of the catchment area occupied by fields with a degraded surface structure as the main factor controlling the variability of erosion in a context of concentrated flow erosion on cultivated land. The extension of degraded areas was shown to be controlled by dynamic interactions between weather, land occupation and soil physical properties. This criterion accounts for the uneven distribution of rainfall in space and time. Morphological factors, such as talweg length and slope, are believed to determine part of the residual variability.