TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is teaming with businesses, nonprofits and others on a five-year, $2.4 billion program that will fund locally designed soil and water conservation projects nationwide, Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday.

Authorized by the new farm law enacted earlier this year, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is intended to involve the private sector more directly in planning and funding environmental protection initiatives tied to agriculture.

“It’s a new approach to conservation that is really going to encourage people to think in very innovative and creative ways,” Vilsack said.

He described the projects to be funded as “clean water startup operations” that will benefit communities and watersheds, a departure from the department’s more traditional approach of focusing on individual operators adopting practices such as no-till cultivation or planting buffer strips.

Universities, local and tribal governments, companies and sporting groups are among those eligible to devise plans and seek grants.

USDA will spend $1.2 billion – including $400 million the first year – and raise an equal amount from participants.