This article explores the role of district government in agricultural development in Vietnam's Long An province from 1954 to the present. It argues that it is only in the reform era that the district has begun to realise its potential as a 'transmission belt' between the higher authorities and the grassroots. Under the South Vietnamese regime and in the pre-reform era of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, local initiative was stifled as policy was dictated from on high by central government, with disastrous consequences. In the reform era, district officials have been joined by 'associates of the state', such as agricultural extension officers, to develop innovative 'local' approaches to agricultural development. This has led to increased prosperity but also rising inequality. While the central government has been more willing to allow local experimentation under reform, its influence and interests are still felt, even at the district level. Most scholars emphasise a sharp break between pre-1975 and post-1975 Vietnam. By contrast, this article highlights the way in which there are important elements of continuity both between regimes and between the pre-reform and post-reform eras.