If produce sellers in Arizona have been hurt by the departure of immigrants from the state, fruit and vegetable traders in New Mexico may be beneficiaries.

A federal judge temporarily blocked key provisions of Arizona’s immigration law from taking effect in late July. Even so, there have been anecdotal reports of immigrants leaving the state for months before the expected July 29 enforcement date of the law, which was designed to step up local enforcement efforts against illegal immigration.

There are no official estimates regarding how many immigrants have left the state, but enough have departed to be missed.

“I have seen it affect this market,” said John Caldwell, branch manager for the Phoenix office of Tavilla Sales Co of Los Angeles.

Cash sales to Hispanic merchants have taken a big hit, he said. Those merchants would typically buy light volumes from a wholesaler and set up a produce stand at a swap meet.

“That business is pretty much gone because of that law,” Caldwell said.

The second drop in demand has been experienced by the region’s Hispanic retailers, Caldwell said.

“I have seen dips in supply to Hispanic chains on the lower end market,” he said.

Overall, he said the disruptions caused by the immigration law may be contributing to a 1% or 2% decline in produce sales in the 5 million strong Phoenix metropolitan region this summer.

Caldwell said consumer opinion in Arizona is beginning to shift about the law. “Even the people who are for it are saying that this isn’t the solution,” he said. “We see the tide turning to a common sense solution.”

New Mexico, where Hispanics account for 45% of the population and friendly policies have been in place toward immigrants, has been one of the states taking on former Arizona residents.

Tom Brinsfield, produce buyer for U.S. Foodservice, Albuquerque, N.M., said immigrants from Arizona moving into New Mexico may have helped buoy demand over the past year.

“It may have to the extent we haven’t suffered as much as some other regions from the recession,” he said. ‘We have been staying pretty busy throughout the last year.”

However, Caldwell said Aug. 10 he has heard anecdotal reports of some immigrants returning to Arizona because of sparse job opportunities in New Mexico.