James Hutton Kidd was born on 12 September 1877 in Hexham, Northumberland, England, the son of Harriet Alice Lee and her husband, James Hutton Kidd, a tailor. The family emigrated to New Zealand when he was a child, initially settling in Christchurch. Hutton, as he was known, trained for agricultural work before deciding on an orcharding career. With his brother Wilfred, he started growing apples and other fruit on a small block in Wanganui's town belt. In 1906 he moved his fruit-growing operations to Greytown, reputedly because of poor health. He purchased a five-acre block, but soon expanded this to a 20-acre orchard. Kidd married Ethel Laura (Lola) Gilbert on 31 August 1916 in Roseneath, Wellington; they were to have no children.
Hutton Kidd's interest in a scientific approach to orcharding led him to experiment with new techniques. He planted his trees on fertile soil and argued against the then standard practice of deep cultivation around the trees. He strongly advocated research into disease prevention, and later supported the establishment of the DSIR's Plant Diseases Division. Kidd was also quick to appreciate the need for new apple varieties. Although impressed by the attractive appearance of new American varieties such as Delicious and Jonathon, he was less satisfied with their flavour. Seeking to combine their visual appeal with the better flavour of the familiar English cultivars, he commenced a breeding programme, growing the seedlings on a separate block and keeping meticulous records of his experiments.
Kidd's first major success came from a cross-pollination of Delicious with Cox's Orange Pippin in 1912. Once the plant fruited it became obvious that it had commercial potential, and Kidd planted five acres in the new variety, which he named Delco. He sold the propagation rights to the New Plymouth nursery firm of Duncan and Davies for £2,000 in the early 1930s; they marketed it as Kidd's Orange Red. Encouraged by this success, Kidd continued his apple-breeding programme and raised many seedlings, hand pollinating between his new variety and other American types, especially Golden Delicious. He also introduced berry-fruit growing to Greytown, helping to establish a successful industry in the district.
A slender, rather frail-looking man, Kidd was strong-willed, intelligent and full of wiry energy. He was active in the local community, serving on the Greytown Borough Council from 1922 to 1925, and was involved in various trade organisations, including the local branch of the New Zealand Farmers' Union and the Greytown Horticultural and Industrial Society. His wife, Lola, was also a keen gardener, and was prominent in the local theatrical society and public library. After Hutton Kidd's death in Greytown on 24 October 1945, she continued to run the orchard for some years before retiring to Eastbourne, where she died in 1970.
Hutton Kidd's major horticultural achievement was posthumous. During the Second World War he had transferred the seedlings from his apple-breeding programme to the DSIR's fruit research section, to be evaluated at the Appleby Research Orchard near Nelson. By 1950 the majority of the seedlings had fruited. Unfortunately, most of the fruit showed too much russetting to be of commercial interest, although two proved to be popular connoisseur varieties, and were released as Telstar and Freyberg.
One showed commercial potential, however, and the clone, originally known as D8, was sent for further trials at Havelock North. Judged alongside 900 other apple varieties from around the world, it was declared outstanding, and was named Gala. It was released onto the market in the 1960s and soon became one of the world's most popular apples. The Gala was New Zealand's most important variety for a number of years, and a red-coloured, naturally occurring variant, Royal Gala, became accepted as the standard for red apples. Also in the 1960s a redder variant of the Kidd's Orange Red was discovered and released as Captain Kidd.
In recognition of the part played by Hutton Kidd in the establishment of New Zealand's apple industry, in 1970 the New Zealand Fruitgrowers' Federation instituted the Kidd Memorial Award Scheme to encourage the search for improved genetic material from New Zealand orchards. Kidd's influence survived in the next generation of New Zealand apples, many of which have been produced by pollinating Gala with other varieties.