Zachary Hayden

Zachary Hayden

Contact Me

Assistant Professor
Department of Horticulture

(517) 353-0410


Quick Links: Education and Experience   Research Areas   Current Projects   Extension Resources   Team Members   Opportunities   

Area of Expertise:

Soil and Nutrient Management for Vegetables


  • 50% Research
  • 50% Extension

Education and Experience

  • AAAS S&T Policy Fellow, National Science Foundation (NSF) - Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE)
  • Ph.D., Horticulture, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
  • B.S., Biology and Environmental Science, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Research Areas

  • Integrated soil fertility management
  • Organic nutrient management
  • Cover crop integration into vegetable cropping systems
  • Dynamics of nitrogen availability and loss in agroecosystems
  • System-level impacts of soil health and conservation strategies
  • Sensor-based (ground and remote) decision support for crop and nutrient management

Current Projects 

Through integrated research and extension efforts, we investigate applied strategies and underlying mechanisms for improving soil and nutrient management in vegetable cropping systems. This includes both managing nutrients to meet production and sustainability goals in the short term, as well as strategies to improve the health and fertility of soils over the long term. Focus areas for current projects are listed below:

Nitrogen management in conventional, organic, and integrated systems

We work on in-season nutrient management challenges in major vegetable crops across scales and production systems. Many projects focus on managing nitrogen (N)—a highly dynamic nutrient with significant consequences for productivity, profitability, and the environment. Challenges involve understanding interactions between N and multiple system components, including crop quality and disease, to improve management recommendations.

Building organic matter on intensively managed, sandy soils

Many vegetables are preferentially produced on sandy soils in Michigan and around the globe, which combined with the high management intensity of these systems, presents key barriers to the maintenance and promotion of long term soil health. Working with the Brainard and Tiemann labs with funding from USDA NIFA, we are using multiple long term trials to ask whether tillage intensity and organic matter inputs interact in novel ways on sandy soils to influence soil organic matter accrual and stabilization, and what impacts long term tillage and organic input-induced changes have on the productivity and resilience of intensive vegetable production systems. We are also part of the Soil Health Institute NAPESHM project.

Cover cropping strategies for vegetable production

We focus on investigating unique combinations of cover crop functional characteristics and management practices in an effort to improve soil organic matter inputs, nutrient management, and the provision of other multi-functional services within vegetable crop rotations. We emphasize practical and mechanistic understanding of system-level cover crop impacts across diverse vegetable crops, with the goal of supporting informed cover crop adoption and management recommendations that minimize risks to production.

Remote sensing applications for vegetable crop management and research support 

Through a growing library of full-season visual and multispectral data, we investigate the utility of high resolution, multi-temporal UAS (drone) imagery across a wide range of vegetable cropping systems. We aim to enable improved adaptive nutrient management, as well as lower barriers to data collection to speed the pace of applied field research. Current projects and collaborations focus on N decision support and phenotyping in processing carrots, winter squash, celery, tomatoes, and other vegetables; improved remote estimation of cover crop productivity; quantification of disease severity in cucurbits; and remote evaluations of soil conditions.

Extension Resources

MSU Online Fertilizer Recommendation Program

Get MSU nutrient and lime recommendations from your soil test results for all the major crops grown in Michigan, and learn about soil test interpretation while you're at it.

Key Soil pH and Nutrient Management Bulletins for Vegetables

Access some go-to resources for soil sampling, lime, fertilizer, and nutrient management in Michigan vegetables, including E-2934 Nutrient Recommendations for Vegetable Crops in Michigan.

Team Members


  • Alyssa Tarrant, PhD Student and C.S. Mott Predoctoral Fellow in Sustainable Agriculture
  • Michael Metiva, Analytical Research Assistant
  • Colin Phillippo, Field and Lab Technician
  • Alissa Ball, Undergraduate Research Aide


Graduate Students

Research Aides

  • Austin Green (2018-2021), Laura Hudecek (2019-2020), Patrick Squire (2018-2020, PLB Undergrad Research 2021), Sam Callow (2017-2020), Genny Feister (2017-2019, HRT Internship 2017), Victoria Lawless (2017-2018), Eryn Daman (2017)  

Opportunities in the Lab

Come work with us! Join a supportive learning environment focused on improving soil and nutrient management in vegetable production systems through rigorous applied research and thoughtful communication with growers and stakeholders. We work with a collaborative group of vegetable production-focused faculty and extension personnel at MSU to support a diverse and engaged vegetable industry in Michigan.

Postdoctoral Researchers

We are currently seeking a postdoctoral researcher to assist primarily with analysis and preparation of manuscripts for projects related to soil health characterization in long term trials, cover crop integration, and nitrogen management within vegetable cropping systems. Contribute your expertise to a collaborative team, conduct interesting research, and build your publication record even if you can’t relocate. Remote and on-site options available based on scope of work and your needs. 

Expertise in soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics, crop nutrition/soil fertility, and cover crop management preferred. Expertise in GIS, aerial image-based phenotyping, or precision agriculture also an asset. Opportunities to contribute to USDA grant proposal development, present at conferences, mentor students, and pursue your own novel research through mentored postdoctoral fellowship proposals (USDA NIFA, NSF) are also available. 

Interested applicants should email Zack Hayden to discuss more. Include a brief statement on your experience, expertise, and availability, along with your current CV including links to first author publications as a writing sample. We encourage applicants from diverse and non-traditional backgrounds to apply. Preferred start in January 2022. 

MS/PhD Graduate Students

Openings for graduate student research assistantships are currently filled, but interested applicants are still encouraged to email Zack to learn more about our research or upcoming opportunities. 

Strong PhD applicants may be able to join our team regardless of funded project-based openings by receiving one of several competitive recruitment fellowships offered through the University or the Plant Science Fellowship program. To be considered, your application must be submitted to the MSU Graduate School by early December (for program start the following Fall semester). Reach out to learn more!

Undergraduate Research Assistants (Including for credit and internships) 

We hire paid full- and part-time undergraduate assistants to support field, greenhouse, laboratory, and computational research. Openings are currently filled, but typically become available in the spring.

Undergraduate MSU students interested in conducting independent research projects (for class credit or internship requirements) are encouraged to reach out at any time. In addition to agriculture and environment focused majors, those in computational and remote sensing-related degree programs can find interesting projects with practical impact.